According to the Pulse Prophets’ website, the stated mission local of this reggae-funk outfit is to “elevate your mind and shake your behind.” A lofty goal by anyone’s measure. In fact, the joining of those particular body parts is often a recipe for disaster, conceivably making the band’s job even more difficult. So, when critically assessing the group’s latest recorded effort, the challenge is to see if the Prophets deliver the goods on both, er, ends. Will they shake our minds? Will they elevate our behinds? Or did I mix that up?
There’s no shortage of booty-shakin’ island groove on Breathe, the band’s second full-length album. From start to finish, the irie quintet ably blends elements of traditional reggae with some seriously slinky funk and hints of electronica.
Pulse Prophets’ rhythm section is impeccably tight. Track after track, drummer Rory Loughran and bassist JP Candelier lock in and lay down a superb foundation. As a result, guitarist Rudy Dauth and keyboard/synthesizer player Andric Severance are essentially turned loose, and they respond by fleshing out the band’s arrangements with an innovative playfulness that you don’t often hear in contemporary reggae releases. Dauth and Severance work well in tandem, simultaneously balancing flash and restraint. Their sound is never cluttered — a signature mark of professionals at work.
However, the band largely falters when it comes to “mind elevation.” Injecting universally appealing sociopolitical themes into music is hardly a novel concept, especially in reggae. And while vocalist/songwriter Elijah Kraatz is a capable singer, his lyrics could use some work.
The most engaging political songwriters are successful — at least in terms of delivering their message — largely because they approach their subject matter with a nuanced sensibility. Anyone can say that war is bad, peace is good and everyone should just get along. The trick is to engage the listener and stir something deep inside them. To accomplish this feat takes more than nuggets of superficial half-wisdoms, which is mostly what we’ve got here.
Kraatz is by no means an incompetent songwriter — he can turn a clever phrase and offer an insightful line, as evidenced by the CD’s fifth track, “Don’t Look at Me.” He sings, “Everyone wants a leader. Everyone wants a god / Everyone just wants a miracle, whether they believe in them or not.” Unfortunately, lines like these are the exception rather than the rule. Folks in need of spiritual or political guidance would do just as well buying buttons or bumper stickers.
Pulse Prophets are talented and polished. But they might be better off just shaking behinds and leaving the mind elevating to someone else. Someone named Marley, perhaps?