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From the first second of Matisyahu’s latest album, Spark Seeker, you’re brought to another land. Hebrew prayers and sitar rhythms open the first track, “Crossroads”, setting the stage for a truly international feel. Recorded in Los Angeles and Israel, it blends reggae, hip-hop, and electronica with Middle Eastern rhythms and instruments, creating a curious blend that may please only a particular palette.
However, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Not only has Matisyahu become known for mixing a variety of musical styles, from pop and reggae to rap and beatbox, but ever since he took stage he’s been known as the “Hasidic superstar” (his words, not mine). Although his new haircut and cleanly-shaven face boast quite a different look, Matisyahu still embraces the religion and heritage that has always impacted his music.
“We live in a world where people tend to think in extremes and categorize with ultimate statements,” he says. “While it’s true that at one point it would’ve been pretty accurate to describe me as Hasidic reggae, for most of my career my music has been a blend, a mixture.”
But for those who love Matisyahu for his live shows and albums, like Live at Stubbs, prepare for a truly digitized feel. His voice is clear, perfect, and autotuned, which is often the opposite of what Matisyahu-enthusiasts seek.
The first single off the record, “Sunshine”, has the same catchy chorus and heavy beat as his past hits like “King Without a Crown” and “Close Your Eyes”. Other poppy tracks include “Live Like a Warrior”, a feel-good tribute to self-empowerment amidst judgements and hate, and “Tel Aviv’n” which is the kind of song you could picture blasting from an Israeli convertible.
Matisyahu spent a year recording with Koool Kojak, the man behind pop stars Nicki Minaj, Travis Barker, and Ke$ha. This explains the new direction and the heavy influence of autotune, electronic beats, and DJ-inspired tracks. With many friends and fellow musicians sampled throughout various songs, such as rapper Shyne on “Buffalo Soldier,” the album is quite the conglomeration. “This is definitely pushing the boundaries of what I’ve done before,” he acknowledges. “It’s a new kind of record for me.”
Although there are definitely some old-school Matisyahu elements in this creation, one missing piece is very apparent – in no track does he show off his beatboxing skills, except during “Sunshine” where they are highly computerized and manipulated.
“I Believe in Love,” is definitely the most personal song, written about his wife whom he married in 2004 and now has three sons with. Profiling his vocals, it is a more melodic track, stripped of heavy electronic sounds and outside forces.
Braving new directions is what music and art should be about, and it’s commendable that Matisyahu took his fourth studio album to do just that. His journey through life and faith has now seemed to pick up some fellow wanderers, and sharing their voices on the album adds to the quiet mystery and intrigue that is Matisyahu. If you’re not inspired by the eclecticism of Spark Seeker, he certainly was.