If the newfound, baby-faced look of a reggae rapper famous for long hair and a mildly kept beard wasn’t enough of a hint, then the release of Spark Seeker is certain to clear up any hazy misconceptions: Matisyahu is cleaning house.
Donning a complexion so smooth and refined you wouldn’t notice him sitting next to you on a bus, the Hasidic Jewish reggae-rapper has re-kickstarted his image as part of a personal musical journey. Unfortunately, his fans weren’t invited for the ride. Pairing with producer Kool Kojak (Ke$ha, Nicki Minaj) for his first studio album since 2009’s Light, the duo recorded for a year in Los Angeles, New York and Israel with the intent of combining multi-instrumentation with traditional and futuristic sounds.
The result? 13 tracks of robust, whirring pop-reggae that’s lukewarm, overproduced and out-of-reach. Whether it’s the digital beats and bouncing bass on “Searchin,” or the heavily-layered and tweaked electronic vocals on “Buffalo Soldier,” the record is begging for the raw, untamed passion that was present on nearly every track from Youth and Live at Stubb’s.
“Crossroads,” the opening track, sets the tone for a record that would seem mystic and deep, with a fading middle-eastern aura and layers of vocal harmonies – “Through desolate city streets late at night / I’ve been searching for my bite / They say I’d inspire but I’m still looking for my fire.” However, the end result is lackluster and unrefined. Where as Light was magnetic and captivating, Spark Seeker is a circus of wandering crescendos and hip-hop beats.
Pushing boundaries is the name of the game, and without growth, Matisyahu – or any musician for that matter – will eventually be swallowed up by the radio waves. But when your name is built on genuine, personal connections and intimate live performances, a few knob turns in the studio is hardly the answer.