Thievery Corporation’s DJs Eric Hilton and Rob Garza utilized a rotating group of supporting artists to engineer an album that is both centered and wandering at the same time. While uneven, it combines incredible highs and drift-less indifference making it perfect to just zone out to.
Dedicating the work to Jah’s “all seeing eye” vocalist Zee serves notice of a spiritual focus before the sleepy sounding riff of sinister opening track “Thief Rockers” even begins. Beginning with a reference to the Rastafarian name for God is expected based on the name of the album itself. Believing that Jah as the same Holy Spirit lives in everyone, Rastas typically refer to the collective “We” as “I and I” in order to affirm the equality among people.
This understanding is front and center in the Thievery Corporation’s eighth album. Equality and the need for social justice are deeply soaked through each of the tracks making this a most necessary statement for the times.
“Strike the Root” features a horn riff that references the unmistakable first couple of notes of “The Force Theme” from Star Wars to drive the reggae beat. Singer Notch’s call for an end to guns as the first step necessary get to the root of society’s ills is unapologetic and timely. This track and album pull no lyrical punches.
This is most effectively realized in the first single and album centerpiece, “Ghetto Matrix.” Rapper Mr. Lif’s descriptive rhymes flow and twist over a slinky bass line and Fender Rhodes keyboard. The hooky chorus, “It’s on you, it’s your mind, it’s a complex plan that keeps us confined” will stick in your head demanding repeated plays.
Mr. Lif’s other featured track, “Fight to Survive” is another highlight. A solid and steadily simple drum track propels the track with Lif’s voice serving to establish the real rhythmic interest. Electronic elements help ground the beat and melody. His searing vocal delivery gives the album substance and helps to stabilize the DJ duo’s tendency to sonically float away. The Boston MC’s 2016 solo album Don’t Look Down is also well worth seeking out.
Title track “The Temple of I & I” is a pure instrumental soundscape that is little more than audio wallpaper. More sound effects to a steady and simple beat than an actual song, it floats directionless throughout its (ironically/intentional?) 4 minute, 20 second time frame. While a pleasant trip, it also dissipates just as quickly to the following intense track “Time + Space” almost as if that song’s vocalist, Loulou Ghelichkhani, had just sprayed Glade air freshener into the room.
A better instrumental is “Let the Chalice Blaze.” This moody and driving track has a clear focus, giving off the feel of an intense solo drive through late night urban streets. Drums swing with an effortless groove anchoring the track for an endlessly fascinating ride.
Coming towards the end of the album, Singer Puma’s “Babylon Falling” is a cautionary warning to the listener to not be deterred from the righteous path and while some offers from the wicked may “be precious but fools and passes the eye” it is these “sinful pleasures has always been used as the downfall of mankind.” His vocal is both passionate and mournful on this downbeat reggae piece.
Notch returns in the final track “Drop Your Guns” to gently reassert his earlier anti-gun message. Where the prior “Strike the Root” had a darker motif, this time the track has an easier, brighter sound and closes out the album in relaxing style.
The Temple of I & I is infused by the island sounds of Reggae and electronica throughout its 15 tracks. The results are varied, but make for an enjoyable album that allows a listener to take an hour-long drift away trip but remain grounded in the realities of now.
Daniel G. Moir has forgotten more about music than all the rest of us know combined. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org