Album Review: SOJA - Amid The Noise And Haste
Amid The Noise And Haste was produced by multiple Grammy award-winning Jamaican producer Supa Dups (Bruno Mars, Eminem, Collie Buddz, Estelle, Rihanna, John Legend) and is the first full-length album he has chosen to take on in his career. The new album is the follow up to critically acclaimed Strength To Survive which debuted in the Billboard top 40. The unique album cover art was designed by British artist Steven Wilson and was carved by hand from wood.
The title and subsequent album concept appear to be taken from The Desiderata of Happiness, the 1920’s piece by American writer Max Ehrmann which opens: "Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.".
According to Jacob Hemphill the mission of the band is "to speak for people who don’t have microphones, our goal as a band is to stick up for the human race. We see the world and we try to make it better in the limited time we have here.” This is the philosophy behind SOJA’s music, a simple statement that has driven the Washington D.C. area band, who blend reggae, go-go, D.C. hardcore, Latin, rock and hip-hop and conscious messaging.
This is their sixth album, and their second for ATO Records whose acronym means, "according to our” records, a label founded by artist Dave Mathews and his manager Coran Capshaw whose mission is to fully develop each artist and each release with sufficient time and attention.
The lead track has a guitar line and horn line counterpoint areas infectious as the best of pop tunes imprinting the listener with the song’s vibe. The bridge with its "coming on down” lyrics and reggae rhythm point out that although there is so many issues in the world with water “literally rising” in reference to global warming, we are here to Tear It Down and begin again.
The band and the producer put together a diverse set of collaborations for this album with something for every niche listener on the spectrum. As lead singer Jacob Hemphill explains it, the process to create these type of collaboration songs comes from the artists themselves, “I think the way it normally works is this: 'We have this album. We need big names. We get the names. We put them on the singles.' That’s not our style. My manager Elliott looks at a song. The song has to be inviting, and of a certain vibe. Think "dancehall" or "rock." We wonder who would understand the song. Is the song about how life is for living? Hawaiians, J Boog, Anuhea. A song about the road and how it can get hard, day in day out, and we do it anyway because we love it and we love the fans? Someone big. Damian "Jr Gong" Marley big. He would understand. A song about tearing ourselves down instead of filling our beautiful lives with love? Nahko, Michael Franti. Try to make the collaborations collaborate to make a song."
SOJA recorded Your Song with Damian Marley, an obvious coup for a band who is mainstream but still maintains their reggae-based sound and musical tastes. They team up to highlight the effects of life on the road and the success that has come to them both in the form of a cautionary tale to reform bad habits and direct the fans to assist them for it is “your song” that gets your hand up in the air and helps them stay on the path that will promote longevity in their career and in life.
A gifted poet, full of rich allegories, Jacob sings, "I’m tied to to the dirt and the land, to the wind and the trees and the waves and the sand. If you see me forgetting, forget who I am, just try to remind me and put up your hands in the stands.” Damian chimes in to ask, "Now If I slip, get lost upon the trip, if I lose a grip on reality, I beg you do not make me drift” an interpolation of a line from papa Bob’s Easy Skankin’ that says, “from reality I just can’t drift, that’s why I’m stayin' with this riff.”. As the chorus comes up Jacob asks us, “If you see me forgetting”, Damian chants “pinch me” to bring the reality. To close the tune, Damian delivers his spoken word testimony to this theme, “Greetings to the world, take care of one another, am I my brother’s keeper? Yes I am.”.
Michael Franti and Nahko sit in on the the message-music recording party with I Believe which offers advice to remember the continuous circle of life, with Franti singing the refrain, “I believe in everything you do, that it all comes back to you.” The song has an anthemic vibe with this type of star power they combined on a recent Soulshine tour that included daily yoga practice as part of the offerings.
The song Easier is another morality lesson with its the punchline, “It’s much easier, when you don’t lie and if you don’t try.” SOJA is joined by J Boog who gives his own personal testimony for being true to yourself, explaining “I don’t qualify for your so-called regular life.” Anuhea’s soulful voice moves up and down the register to administer the truth serum.
Guitar tech turned SOJA band member Trevor Young sings another infectious chorus in Shadow - a self-esteem builder and fun editorial on who their fans are, people not living in the shadow of something, but standing tall, who don’t “follow anyone”. Interwoven in the mix is thoughtful guitar picking as Jacob further delineates the profile of their fan base - people who "show love out and show love back, show some faith and get respect”. As Trevor Young explains, the idea behind the song was that “everyone has their own voice and opinion that matters. Everyone has a voice and something to contribute to the situation around you for good".
"Once Upon A Time” is a tale of love told over a sweet ska-driven rhythm punctuated by effect-laden guitars that break down to a down to a slower tempo in a horn-tinged sonic bed for true storytelling. We meet the subject who was “a princess alone in need of a King” and someone who had hoped for a happily-ever after ending to the tale.
An additional collaboration is on Promises And Pills with hip-hop orator Alfred The MC who opens with the chant “I’m the reason for the freedom of this land” beginning to sketch this portrait of a soldier and the issues of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the overuse of pharmaceutical drugs to solve issues related to it. As Jacob breaks the cycle asking “reintegrate me, you made me a killer, like you could trade me for everything I’ve lost”. A melancholy horn line with a dramatic guitar and organ jam take this song to the mat for the final count at 4:30 as the album’s most lengthy track.
For Signature the band delivers their own signature style addressing existential issues and the meaning of life with hopeful grace. The message is to "keep calm and keep listening….let it out and if its true it will flow out of you like a river in your mind...Because the truth will never fall, it’s been around before us all, its like a signature on your mind”. A common theme in Jacob’s writing is imperialism, he uses it here to explain issues related to letting go with the line “mankind was built on conquest". It is not all seriousness, the music is well-seasoned here with Latin arranged horns and percussive keyboards delivered in a playful cadence.
The collaboration She Still Loves Me featuring Collie Buddz is delivered over a straight up one drop that addresses the lifestyle of a traveling musician who must return to find out whether his love has maintained the vigil and still carries a torch for him. Collie warns the would be heart breakers out there, “Every time that you break a girl’s heart in two, there will be less of it when it comes back to you".
More of life’s romance is explored in Wait - a sensuous deep roots reggae groove implores, "Don’t let it go like its gone before, please stay don’t make me show up at your door". Jacob’s introspection states that sometimes “I’m not into the person I've become”. The romance lament continues, perhaps an impasse has been reached on Better which discusses spending our lives in limbo, if both parties cannot make it “better” to the tune of a robust reggae-tinged ballad tempo, the breakdown actually calls on angels to help the situation.
Furthering the journal of the touring musician’s romantic life is Treading Water that uses a mournful violin for this state of limbo, now in the form of treading water. A glimpse of life and love on the road is provided as the singer ruminates while “packing up the hotel room” in the wee hours. As the night wears he has the realization that “I’ve been running in a circle for days…. every time I think its the end, you show up fucking everything in my head”.
The release winds down with Lucid Dreams a pure, simplistic, meditative ode with Nahko and acoustic piano. The timbre of both he and Jacob’s voices is similar and they weave together seamlessly stating, "no one can know where my mind goes. I want to remember the womb of my mother, want to understand all the love of my father,” while “slowing down the rate of motion….focusing inside an ocean.” Nahko’s own philosophy of musicianship as being a type of "medicine for the people" which is the name of his own band and a concept present in the lyric, "Somewhere inside me is a the integrity to be a good medicine soldier”. The two voices interweave in wonderful harmonies and expression as they are “walking through this lucid dream again”.
The best thing about an album like Amid The Noise and Haste is the intention behind it, which seems to harken back to the band’s intrinsic desire to do good, to “go placidly” and to continuously improve on this goodness while challenging the system. The self-examination is very refreshing, especially from artists on this level whose aim is to stand up for humanity, they seem to start with themselves, working with the self-care concept and fleshing it out with plenty of real-world situations and best wishes for all. The musicianship of SOJA combined with the pop stylings of producer Supa Dups, combine to organize a solid set with several songs destined for the charts and the hearts of fans both new and old.
LISTEN TO THE FULL ALBUM:
SOJA - Amid The Noise And Haste
DIGITAL RELEASE / CD / VINYL [ATO Records]
Release date: 08/12/2014
01. Tear It Down
02. Your Song feat. Damian Jr. Gong Marley
03. I Believe feat. Michael Franti & Nahko
04. Easier feat. Anuhea & J Boog
05. Shadow feat. Trevor Young
06. Once Upon a Time
07. Promises and Pills feat. Alfred the MC
09. She Still Loves Me feat. Collie Buddz
12. Treading Water
13. Lucid Dreams feat. Nahko
14. Driving Faster feat. Bobby Lee*
15. Talking To Myself*
16. Translation of One*
17. Like It Used To feat. Mala Rodríguez*