The Aggrolites - Reggae Hit L.A. (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

The Aggrolites

Reggae Hit L.A. (2007)


It's good to see reggae back with the punk crowd. Reggae, punk and ska have had a close relationship since the 1970s, but lately it seems that even ska-punk-bred American reggae bands like Slightly Stoopid and Pepper have been more in tune with the stoner/jam band scene than the followers of the Clash, Bad Brains, and the Specials. And somewhere between acting as Tim Armstrong's back-up band for his debut solo A Poet's Life and touring the continent with Dropkick Murphys and Sick of It All, the Aggrolites managed to put together one of the most solid reggae records in recent years, and one that will put reggae back on the leather jackets of kids from Los Angeles to NYC.

The production on Reggae Hit L.A. is phenomenal. It appropriately shuns the clean, sparkly coating in favor of sounding rather raw and retro, like an old Stax '45 EP, and it's absolutely perfect for the Aggrolites. The band's blend of "dirty reggae," ska, funk, rocksteady, and rubadub soul is even more refined, more evenly distributed, and more fun than last year's self-titled Hellcat debut.

The band jumps from synth-led reggae in the album opener "Work It" to a lazy, horn-driven ska tune in "Let's Pack Our Bags" to a James Brown-like party song in the album's title track. "You Got 5" is a sunny instrumental whose mere vibe invokes images of palm trees and pristine ocean beaches, while "Baldhead Rooster" gives off an almost Indian flavor. The voice of lead vocalist Jesse Wagner is as soulful as ever, like on the funky "Well Runs Dry," which features Wagner's retro appeal mixed with Motown harmonies and light toasting.

The only area where Reggae Hit L.A. falls short of its zenith potential is a lack of substance on an album that is, by default, mostly a party record. Eight to ten of the fifteen songs on Reggae Hit L.A. are either entirely instrumental, or are very minimal in the lyrics department, like in the title track, whose lyrics are almost entirely made up of a repetitive group shout of "Reggae hit L.A.!" The lack of lyrics doesn't detract at all from the music on the record, but it's a shame to see so many great rhythms and instrumental melodies stand naked when they could be peppered with some substance, especially with Wagner's terrific vocal abilities. After all, great reggae songs like Desmond Dekker's "Israelites" and Jimmy Cliffs' "The Harder They Come" were fairly basic musically, but their message has never lost its strength, and they remain some of the immortal anthems from the genre.

Reggae Hit L.A. is a dazzling album from start to finish. The Aggrolites have carved out their niche in the music community and planted their flag in a hybrid territory made up of some of the most soulful music around, and in doing so have crafted the perfect summer album in Reggae Hit L.A..