Album Review: Matisyahu ‘Spark Seeker’
When Matisyahu posted a photo on Twitter showing his beardless face while he was working on Spark Seeker, his fans freaked out a bit at the thought that he might be distancing himself from Judaism. He quickly reassured them that this wasn’t the case, but that as he explored his religion he found himself too reliant on the strict set of rules by which he was living. He’s grown his beard back out now, but the statement was clear both on a personal and artistic level.
His music has certainly never been encumbered or confined by rules, and he has not followed a common path to define his art or find success. He has created with complete freedom, so it’s a little strange to think of him living a very rigid life, and maybe the time has come to test that. He has described this music as a rebirth.
The album opens with a hazzan prayer, and a deep feeling of atmosphere is built around it. ‘Crossroads’ proper begins at about the one minute mark and spells out in no uncertain terms the quest Matisyahu is on to continue to discover his spirituality, and himself. It’s a great introduction to the album, and to his music in general.
For a devout artist who uses many aspects of his religion in his art, Spark Seeker is surprisingly– but no doubt intentionally– light in any actual religious indoctrination. He manages to get across social and spiritual messages without seeming preachy or controversial at all. Maybe it’s a choice to be a little safe, or maybe he is just focused on the positive side of his message. He doesn’t seem interested in telling people what to do with their lives, which is why his music is able to reach so far beyond his sect.
While he incorporates hazzan and Hebrew into his music, equally important is hiphop, beatboxing, and above all else, reggae. His music and style of singing are both very unique as a result, but the fusion of these sounds does not come across as strange or forced. This is exactly the sort of thing that will make these types of music more interesting for people who would not normally seek them out.
Matisyahu is very adept at taking on quite different sounds from one song to the next, changing his singing or rapping style pretty dramatically at times. For part of ‘Shine on You’ he sounds a lot like Maroon 5’s Adam Levine, for example, and I found myself checking several times for featured artists where there were none. A unique approach is taken to each song, and stylistic choices are driven by musical ideas rather than being predetermined by any notion of what he is supposed to sound like. In spite of this, his identity as an artist is very strong.
Electronic elements are well used, but often they are not particularly exciting. There is not a ton of innovation here– and in fact the production is probably a little bit old school compared to the rest of popular music right now– but it manages to feel fresh regardless. The incorporation of different musical influences is so well done, and Matisyahu’s presence is so strong, that these songs really don’t need a whole lot of help.
Past about the sixth track though, things actually start to blend together a lot, which surprised me. There is a lull in the middle of this record, and while I wouldn’t call any of these tracks outright boring, they do cease to feel completely special when the album begins to stick with one approach for too long.
‘Summer Wind’ is a great highlight song, and probably the best showcase of Matisyahu’s beatboxing next more traditional Hebrew singing, with a violin to wrap it all up. It leads into ‘Live Like a Warrior’, another standout, and together they breathe life back into Spark Seeker.
As an artist Matisyahu is not for everyone, but the range of people who will appreciate this music is surprisingly, pleasantly broad. It’s a cut above the norm both in terms of its sound and poetry, and well worth a look if you find yourself curious.
Release Date: July 17, 2012
Image Courtesy of Fallen Sparks/Thirty Tigers