The Aggrolites – Rugged Road
1.) Trial and Error
2.) Enemy Dub
3.) Dreamin’ of Erie
4.) Eye of Obarbas
5.) The Aggro Band Plays On
6.) Camel Rock
7.) In the Cut
8.) The Heat
9.) Complicated Girl
10.) Out of SIght
The Pier Album Rating:
Release Date: Feb 22nd, 2011
Record Label: Youngcub Records
Originally formed as the backing band for reggae legend Derrick Morgan, The Aggrolites were assembled from two L.A. reggae/ska acts, The Vessels and The Rhythm Doctors. After a recording project with Morgan fell through, the band, energized by their sessions together, decided to trod on without Morgan, forming the Aggrolites. With their signature Dirty Reggae sound, the band has released four albums and toured extensively across the U.S. and Europe.
L.A.’s The Aggrolites have made a nearly decade long career out of revivalist ska anthems, flying the Dirty Reggae banner high and proud for all to see. Laced with upbeat, syncopated riddims, a gritty recording atmosphere and an overall good time feel, Rugged Road is essentially a continuation of the band’s excavation deeper and deeper into the Studio One archives. Anyone who didn’t like The Aggrolites before probably won’t be won over by this album. However, fans of The Aggrolites’s previous work (such as myself), as well as fans of early Jamaican ska and the late 70’s UK skinhead scene, will find plenty to love within these ten gems seething with unrivaled energy and dedication to a sound that’s become far too rare in modern reggae music.
The album kicks off with the remarkable Trial and Error, an exemplary piece of gritty, old school ska music infused with ghostly, dub effects, ranging from some fairly typical delayed percussion hits to eerie studio effects which I’m not completely sure how to describe in terms of instruments, only in the feeling– something akin to a tingling sensation in the back of your head.
That said, most of the record is really a superb exercise in the manipulation of recorded sound, a fact made even more astonishing by the fact that the band recorded this entire album on reel-to-reel tape with few overdubs. Despite such limited technological means, sonically this record is far superior to many of its more technologically advanced contemporaries. And, seriously, if the digital version sounds this good, I can’t wait to hear the vinyl.
Three mesmerizing instrumental tracks (well sort of…Enemy Dub contains a brief vocal snippet) follow, leading up to The Aggro Band Plays On, which marks a pronounced change in the album’s energy. While the first four tracks on the album meditate, meander, and mystify with the fly by night production and entrancing ornamentation (impressively varied as well for a five-piece), The Aggro Band Plays On introduces a side of the band previously unheard on this record: raunchy, rough, and dancehall crashing at its finest, really. Lead vocalist Jess Wagner giddily recants his favorite places ranging from the East Bay to Moscow, charmingly regaling his audience with a place-by-place anecdote of The Aggrolites’s journeys across the globe, punctuated by the intensely catchy, group refrain of …and the aggro band plays on!
The following half of the album continues in a most energetic manner, as if lifted by the audacious party spirit of The Aggo Band Plays On. Every track skanks and rages up until Complicated Girl, a mellower rock-steady influenced track whose falsetto, harmonized vocals stretch from the chorus through to the verse in a manner that could make Toots and the Maytals shout Damn! The album closes with Out of Sight, a dirty organ-led instrumental track, which saunters past, leaving the listener satisfied, but ultimately disappointed that the whole experience had to be limited to only 31 minutes and 37 seconds.
I have a hard time finding fault with the latest Aggrolites album. It truly does transport the listener, leading out of your whatever your present state of mind may be and into a dark, sweaty basement party, where the house band pumps out heavy bass and classic ska tunes via the finest sound system you’ve ever heard. For fans of gritty, old-school reggae music with some serious skank in it, Rugged Road is the shit.
Written & Reviewed by: Chris Castro
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