Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Album Review: Mishka - Above the Bones

Mishka: Above the Bones
[j.k. living 2009]


Each time I listen to Above the Bones, the third proper album from Bermudan reggae singer Mishka, I can’t help but think of Ras Trent, played by Andy Samberg on Saturday Night Live last year. That boneheaded white Rastafarian spends his days quoting Selassie I, smoking pot, and otherwise trying to be the ultimate, oh-so-cool college Rasta just like the Jah-loving scenesters that have inspired him. And I can imagine that besides adorning his walls, Ras Trent’s iPod is full of Bob Marley, as well as any other reggae artists with a leftist message and chilled out groove. All things considered, Ras Trent would love Mishka.

That’s not to say that Mishka’s musical intentions are inherently inane. Reflecting a childhood bouncing around the Caribbean, Mishka is a straight up reggae man with a gentle, widely accessible aesthetic. Bob Marley is his man, the legend’s music permeating deeply into his style and vocals, and surely there’s nothing wrong with having the king of reggae as a major creative influence. But what Mishka does with this influence is what’s important, and unfortunately, on Above the Bones, it isn’t much.

Mishka’s brand of reggae is rife in adult contemporary pop clichés, and while Above the Bones may make for good background music at a chill college party or a pleasantly simple source of relaxation, it’s still a predictable and generic record. The problems start from the get go, as opener “Higher Heights” plods along on a dime-a-dozen slow reggae rhythm before reaching an unimaginative chorus. “Train Again” doesn’t sound too dissimilar, except here the song is marred by a guest vocalist whose deep-voiced toasting is grossly overdone.

While ultimately a flop, at least “Train Again” takes a risk, which is more than can be said for the safe soft rock that elicit bored yawns elsewhere on the album, especially on “Mountains Meet the Sea.” “Peace & Love” is a slow pseudo-kumbaya of mind-numbing simplicity, while the acoustic closer “Guy With a Guitar” is cheesy, overly-suave, and designed to elicit lovestruck sighs in girls’ dorm rooms.

The gentle soft reggae rhythms match the album’s generic lyrics, making Above the Bones a boringly tame listen. Even the brief periods of ambiance sound effects, like the party crowd on “Higher Heights,” the train noises of “Train Again,” and the wash of the tide on “Coastline Journey” sound clichéd and amateurish. In singing in generalities and not varying his Marley-like vocals, most of Mishka’s songs pack no punch and become exceedingly forgettable. When Mishka most directly confronts social ills on “3rd Eye Vision,” which is musically one of the few catchy bright spots on the record, his lacking songwriting skills are most evident. Although sporting an enjoyable chorus and a nice use of horns, the song’s lyrics are laughably ridiculous, as Mishka shares that “I keep wishing corporations/ And the politicians/ Would make title restrictions/ On the fossil fuel emissions.” It’s one of those toothless songs for political change that you know will end up accomplishing zilch.

Despite its rudimentary treatment of world peace, love, and other feel-good notions, Mishka does manage several worthwhile tracks besides “3rd Eye Vision.” The title track is an uplifting, relaxing tune helped out by female backing vocals and Mishka’s most graceful singing on the album. Darker tones mark the more serious, but still relaxing “Some Paths,” another highlight.

In the end, however, besides being a competent soft reggae album, Above the Bones offers no surprises. Mishka sticks to a tired formula that ultimately yields few rewards, while his lyrical takes on world politics and “peace and love” are sorely lacking creatively and intellectually. Between thought-provoking social consciousness and radio-friendly tunes geared for the college set, Mishka can’t accomplish both, and ends up with more of the latter. So while the gospel for folks like Ras Trent remains Bob Marley and the other legends of real roots-reggae, there’s a good chance the reggae heads will find time to obnoxiously blast Above the Bones down the hallway.

"Coastline Journey":

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