ALBUM: Matisyahu’s Spark Seeker
Matisyahu, born as Matthew Paul Miller, grew up in White Plains, NY, dropped out of high school, became a “Phish-head,” following the rock band Phish on tours. Cue religious and personal enlightenment, and he took his Hebrew name Matisyahu and discovered reggae music as the best form to express his ideas. Until quite recently, he wore and performed in traditional Hasidic beard and garb. His recent tranformation to a “clean-shaven rock-star” has sparked some controversy as to what his true message is among his fans. He responded to Huffington Post,
“I have a responsibility [to convey] my message at any given time. As I am going through things in my life, I will write songs about them. Whether it is ‘Shake off the Dust’ and was ‘Warrior’ learning about Hasidus, and my life then, or my life now….Just like then, if not more than ever, I feel I have evolved. I don’t look at myself at a downpoint in my life. The way I feel now, the wisdom that I have gained and the truth I feel I have found over the last 6 months, feels more up than ever in my life. I have gotten a taste of something that I have been searching for, for a long time, for my whole life.”
This new personal evolution has definitely been reflected in the sound of his newest studio album, Spark Seeker. This is his fourth studio album, and his most revolutionary. Some may complain that he is succumbing to the “mainstreaming” that occurs so often with artists after they make it big, but Matisyahu’s new form works. He makes the pop and hip-hop genre his own, keeping his message of peace, unity, and truth clear through the beats. He includes Middle-Eastern and Hebrew samplings alongside collaborations with pop and rap artists J Ralph and Shyne.
One thing to know about this albumis that you’ll miss a lot of the message if you miss the lyrics (which are pretty straightforward, not a lot of analysis is needed to understand what he’s saying). In the lyrics, Matisyahu really fleshes out the ideas he is trying to get across. Without paying attention to the lyrics, the songs are enjoyable, but could be mistaken for shallow pop-y tunes. With lyrics about “Crossroads,” referring to the crossroads in life that he is currently at, “Searchin” his soul for the truth in all of us.
The album starts off with a Middle Eastern beginning of “Crossroads,” that shifts into a cool electro-rap. With “Sunshine,” Matisyahu really just goes for it, with a super upbeat sound, plunging the listener into his completely new sound. Every song has surprises, including flute noises, rap strings, guest collaborators, intense drum beats (see “Buffalo Soldier (feat. Shyne)”). “Bal Shem Tov” starts out with a Hebrew verse before shifting into the rest of the song. “Tel Aviv’n” has Matisyahu spitting raps about Tel Aviv. Spark Seeker closes with “Shine on You,” a nice, more relaxed song, but continuing his message of serenity and love.
Matisyahu is no longer focusing on his appearance, shifting from the strict Hasidic customs, no longer sporting the garb and style of that tradition. His ideas and philosophies have not changed, however, as the message that comes through in this new style is still clearly the same. Its all about going forward with his personal evolution, his own beliefs, and the ultimate search for inner truth.
Here is a really cool documentary about the making of the album, definitely worth a watch, as it shows the traditional instruments used to give the album a unique sound mixed in with those pop and hip-hop beats.