Matisyahu: Youth

Nate Seltenrich

Youth may not be Matisyahu's second album, but it's still a sophomore slump.



Label: JDUB
US Release Date: 2006-03-07
UK Release Date: 2006-05-08
iTunes affiliate

Behold the sophomore slump. Cherish it. Embrace it. Remember the past; look to the future. Youth is Matisyahu's third full-length release, but only his second studio record (Shake off the Dust...Arise came in 2004) and his second album to receive any sort of attention (Live at Stubb's introduced the "Hasidic reggae superstar" to the world). Plus, Youth just sounds like a sophomore album. You can hear the growing pains -- the muscles stretching, the bones creaking, the soul in angst as it tests and forges an identity.

"Fire of Heaven/Altar of Earth" is what Youth strives to be -- a faultless fusion of Matisyahu rapping and singing, preaching and praising: of reggae and hip-hop; of studio and stage; of young and old; of dancefloor liaisons and righteous piety. Youth knows what it wants to be, but Matisyahu and his band Roots Tonic haven't led it there. Instead they've arrived at a plane of shattered glass, a reflection refracted in myriad directions. Taken as individual visions, most of Youth's 13 songs succeed in one way or another. The title track delivers a strong lyrical message with disjointed, yet equally bold music to back it up. "Young man -- the power's in your hand / Slam your fist on the table and make your demand / You gotta make the right move", pronounces Matisyahu in the chorus. "Jerusalem" is a dancehall track that best exemplifies Matisyahu's style -- clean, catchy, and spiritual. His fiery vocals roll over a slick beat straight from the Neptunes' notebook.

But stepping back from Youth reveals a spectrum of shards swept into a pile. Matisyahu seems to trying to do too much, to arrange too many ideas. Too much attention has been given to making songs, and too little to making an album. The acoustic guitar ballad "What I'm Fighting For" doesn't gel with MC Stan Ipcus's rap cameo in "WP", which in turn frustrates the mellow ruminations of "Late Night in Zion". These are not bad ideas in and of themselves, but jumbled together in poor sequence they amount to little more than the playlist of an iPod Shuffle.

Youth's error is corrected by its limited-edition counterpart Youth Dub, which keeps a tight focus across Matisyahu's musical and lyrical themes. These dub versions of songs from throughout Matisyahu's career range from good to excellent, but what really sells the collection is its dedication to one idea. That's part of what made Matisyahu great, initially, especially on Stubb's, and it's what is sorely lacking from Youth. It's not that Matisyahu should be painted into a corner -- he clearly doesn't want that to happen, and neither do we -- but there's a difference between variety and sprawl, between trying new things and throwing them all up against a wall to see what sticks. When viewed through a dub lens, Youth's new approaches don't sound so divergent; rather, more like different ways of viewing the same thing, which, when repeated across an entire record, can be a sure formula for success.

Youth doesn't rival either of Matisyahu's previous releases. But it does present some of his most intriguing studio recordings yet, aided considerably by Bill Laswell's deft electronic touches. Most importantly, Youth proves that Matisyahu is no gimmick. He's a dedicated artist facing the same struggles as any from the secular world. Along with Youth Dub, this is plenty to tide us over until next time.






A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.