Thursday, December 16, 2010

December 16: The Aggrolites, "Work It"

Artist: The Aggrolites
Song: "Work It"
Album: Reggae Hit L.A.
Year: 2007

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Occasionally, even when an artist or group of bands are trying to revive a sound or pay tribute to the spirit of a somewhat forgotten style, the "point" becomes lost or muddled in their more modern twist in the sound.  Though bands like No Doubt, Sublime, and many others may like to think that they were representing "true" ska or reggae music in their songs, the truth of the matter is, they are quite a distance from the "real" sound and mood that defined that style.  In fact, throughout the 1980's and 1990's, there were very few bands that one could site as properly playing this classic sound, and one can make the case that for at least a few years, it had completely disappeared.  Then, in the early 2000's, the sound began to appear across the globe again, and few groups have carried the torch as brightly and brilliantly as Los Angeles, California's Aggrolites.  Originally conceived as a sort of "all star" band to serve as the backing band for a one-off show from the legendary Derrick Morgan, the chemistry within the band members was instantly clear, and they soon began working on original studio material.  Whether playing more fast-paced ska sounds or the more mellow sounds of reggae, The Aggrolites are without question the closet representation of the roots of their music that the world has heard in decades, and one can easily understand their impact by listening to their 2007 song, "Work It."

Serving as the lead track on their Reggae Hit L.A. album, the song opens with a sound that is something beyond the word "classic," as organ player Roger Rivas is nothing short of perfect in the brilliant tone that he deploys.  The organ bounces across the song, setting the core riff, as well as an upbeat, yet relaxed mood, and this alone brings the listener back to the classic Kingston sound quicker and more accurately than anything that had been released in years.  Rivas' sound pushes the song along at every turn, and the way in which it combines with the rhythmic guitar of Brian Dixon and Jesse Wagner is nothing short of ska bliss.  Though in most cases, ska has been portrayed as a fast, more punk sound, on "Work It," The Aggrolites show how the same feelings can be achieved at a slower tempo, and the harmony between these three musicians gives the song a flow and feel that remains unmatched.  The rhythm section of bassist J. Bonner and drummer Korey "Kingston" Horn are the final pieces in helping "Work It" to attain a sense of movement that is completely distinctive, and the overall sound can easily induce "skanking" as easily as any of the classic reggae or ska songs.  The fact that The Aggrolites leave and modern "tricks" or studio polish off the album is perhaps the key to their authentic sound, and it proves that keeping things simple is the best way to accurately represent the classic style.

The spirit of reggae and ska are further reinforced by the loose, almost free flowing lyrics, and in terms of both tone and mood, Jesse Wagner is in a class all his own.  Though the vocals are quite laid back, there is no question that Wagner possesses a fantastic voice, as even in these somewhat sparse lyrics, he shows an ability to work nearly all of the vocal spectrum.  Furthermore, there is an upbeat, bright tone in his voice that perfectly matches the mood of the music over which he sings, and it is often this combination that proves most difficult to achieve.  Never having to "push" to convey the sound or mood he is shooting for, there is an authenticity and honesty in Wagner's vocal approach, and there is little question that he is anything short of "the ideal vocalist for The Aggrolites and the sound they play.  Keeping the vocals in an almost "call and response" style, Wagner clearly knows his history, and the simple lyrics are able to bring an ideal finishing touch to "Work It."  As was often the theme during the "classic" eras of reggae and ska, the song seems to revolve around the simple idea of working hard to get ahead in life and not "lose it."  Much in the spirit of the classic sound, these lyrics can be applied to a wide range of situations, and it is largely the reason that like the style which they represent, The Aggrolites' "Work It" is extremely catchy and one cannot help getting pulled in and the song is nothing short of pure enjoyment.

Throughout all of Reggae Hit L.A., The Aggrolites are in top form, and this is perhaps due to the fact that it was the second record that the band had recorded in a very short time span.  Only two weeks earlier, the iconic Tim Armstrong released his solo album, A Poet's Life, and throughout that album, The Aggrolites served as his backing band.  Their ability to perform on the wide range of sounds found on that record, as well as the similar sounds on Reggae Hit L.A. serve as a testament to the exceptional level of talent within the band members, and their overall relationship with Armstrong and Hellcat Records provides a clear link between the sounds of reggae and ska and the more modern punk rock movement.  Yet even without these elements, one cannot deny the fantastic sounds and moods that one finds throughout the album, and it is without question one of the most refreshing and enjoyable records from any genre that has been released over the past decade.  In an era of over-production and some of the most bland and inauthentic music ever, it is groups like The Aggrolites that prove the power and beauty that one can find in music from truly talented and knowledgeable bands.  Without a down moment anywhere on the record, one can experience everything that makes The Aggrolites one of the finest bands in the current music scene on their 2007 song, "Work It."

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