It’s hard to imagine that Matisyahu — the Hasidic Jewish musician from Pennsylvania — is only thirty years old. It feels like ages ago that he burst onto the music scene in 2004 with his debut album Shake Off the Dust… Arise.
It seemed like a joke — a Hasidic Jew fusing reggae, hip-hop, and rock into something substantial. Was it just a gimmick? Well, all assumptions were dropped when Matisyahu‘s sophomore album Youth peaked at #4 on the Billboard Top 200 chart. Apparently this guy was for real.
It’s been three years since Youth, and on his third full-length album Light the 30-year-old Matisyahu (Matthew Paul Miller) seems to have hit his stride with a type of maturity and polish that only time and experience can create. “As my musical tastes have grown I have been re-discovering my sound and my voice,” says Matisyahu (press release).
Matisyahu hits the ground running on Light, opening with the pseudo-reggae dance anthem “Smash Lies” that doesn’t let up once. Only after the ska-pop “We Will Walk” and the enlightening anthem “One Day” did I really get what he was trying to do with the album. I mean, geez, the album’s titled Light.
With lyrics like “One day this will all change / Treat people the same / Stop with the violence down with the hate one day we’ll all be free” there was potential for corniness and agenda-setting, but Matisyahu doesn’t sound at all preachy when he repeatedly chants “One Day” everyone will be equal.
Creating catchy and smooth melodies has always been Matisyahu’s strength. I hesitate to say the word pop because his words and rhythms are more different and feel so much more than simply notes and beats. The album’s second-best song “On Nature” best exemplifies how accessible he makes his music but it sounds like something you’ll never hear on the radio.
Light is a surprisingly good album despite Matisyahu’s differing musical approach that contrasts to his earlier work. Matisyahu doesn’t try to do too much with his music as he maintains as much simplicity as possible to stay lean and focused, a result from his optimism: “Being an artist is about being sensitive to how the world resonates inside you and then being able to express it.”