Wednesday, June 6, 2007

I got a fever and the only cure is more aggro!

Aggrolites "Reggae Hit LA" (hellcat records)

What can you say about the Aggrolites? They have literally set themselves apart by being the most exciting modern reggae band since they released their first album "Dirty Reggae.” The band formed out of a group of studio musicians that already had roots in the west coast reggae scene (check out the Rhythm Doctors and Seespot). 4 years later the band seems destined to be the hardest working/touring reggae outfit in the world. 2 weeks ago Tim Armstrong's solo album was released with the Aggrolites backing Tim on every tune. And now the band's 3rd release "Reggae Hit LA" is their second album on Hellcat Records. Hellcat reached out to ska scene towards the end of the 90's by signing disenfranchised ska bands with higher goals including King Django, the Slackers, and the Pietasters. Hellcat took those bands to newer levels and the Aggrolites are possessed to reach the same and possibly larger audiences.

The band admitted to writing most of this album on the road through their various tours of the US/Europe. But this album is hardly meant to be taken lightly. This album marks the return of original Aggro drummer Korey Horn, who is without a doubt one of the tightest reggae drummers out there. The albums hits you with a surprise from the get-go. The first track "Work It" seems like a Toots/funky reggae number (that could even be on their last album) with a synthesized keyboard melody. "Faster Bullet" proves how much Jesse Wagner has grown as a singer/songwriter. Also a point to mention are the vocal harmonies done throughout this song that really fills in the gaps and make the sound more complete (this is an important and often ignored facet of recording a good album). The Aggrolites start things right with these tracks and "You Got 5" brings back the skinhead reggae, Upsetter style the band is known for.

"Reconcile" sees the band experimenting with 70's styled reggae effects (ie Michigan and Smiley "Rub A Dub Style") just like in the opening track. And I say these tunes took a few times to listen to but they fit right in and work thanks to the keyboard wizardry that is known as Roger Rivas. And as one of those dorky people with a big record collection that know way too much about music made decades before I was born. People in our scene appreciate when a band like the Aggrolites not only respects the music but actually knows their roots. The band's title track is a soul stomping organ groove with group vocals and Jesse channeling his inner Otis Redding, Wilson Picket, and James Brown. The band slows the tempo down on the ballad "Lets Pack Our Bags" but the band retains their signature sound even during different time signatures which is a rather difficult endeavor. On the instrumental tracks like "Left Red", "Rhythm & Light", "Hip To It", and "Baldhead Rooster" the Aggrolites demonstrate why people should appreciate bands that mixed reggae, soul, and funk. Bands like the Hippy Boys, the Upsetters, Symarip, and the Mohawks paved the way for this sound.

The catchiest and my favorite track is "Free Time" which shows off the tight rhythm section-- Korey on drums, J Bonner on Bass, and Jesse playing rhythm guitar are skilled players at the top of their game. Brian Dixon on lead guitar not only adds to the musical madness but his work behind the board has showed how the band has made a transition from lo fi Dirty Reggae to the new crisp sounds of the day. And when you see the band perform live these players are the rock solid reggae foundation that cannot be broken. The band's ode to gambling "Lucky Streak" is another tune that demonstrates the band's ability to find a groove and is simply a fun song in the same vain as "Pop the Trunk." To close out the album the band included their soccer sing-a-long "We Came To Score" that will hopefully be heard in arenas far and wide. As a reviewer its hard to critique a band as skilled as the Aggrolites. What can they do wrong? The first two albums a band makes often test the waters. They play off their influences and hopefully a band finds their sound. Well the Aggrolites found their sound and it’s the only sound I want to hear. This is quite possibly the best and most important album of 2007.

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