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The Aggrolites

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Album Review

The band picture that graces the cover of the Aggrolites' debut album is somewhat deceptive. Dressed in black and staring malevolently at the camera, the bandmembers all look like young punks bent on violence — the fact that lead singer Jesse Wagner is brandishing a baseball bat only completes the image of potential mayhem. With trepidation, you put the disc in the player, and what comes out is...James Brown? Yes, that's what it sounds like — a slightly clunky version of James Brown, but still. And what comes next (and fills the rest of the program) is even more puzzling: absolutely pitch-perfect rocksteady of the type perfected by the Upsetters in the late '60s. Everything is in place, from the wonderfully cheesy organ sounds to the Wild West anachronisms ("Hey, amigo, why are you digging that hole?" "It's not a hole, it's your grave.") and the rubber-band guitar chops that sit rhythmically halfway between the galloping ska backbeats of 1964 and the one-drop reggae of 1972. It's a fair question whether listeners need this kind of revivalism when the Upsetters' 1960s catalog is so readily available. But I think the answer lies in the Aggrolites' infectious passion: they don't make this music their own by doing anything new or different with it, but by simply grabbing hold of it and refusing to let go. Highlight tracks include the genre-dissing "Countryman Fiddle," the excellent instrumental "Sound by the Pound," and the brilliant "Fury Now."


Formed: 2002 in Los Angeles, CA

Genre: Reggae

Years Active: '00s

Blame it on No Doubt or blame it on Sublime, but by the middle of the 1990s, very little of the pop music that was described as ska had anything to do with Jamaican dance music of the early '60s. Too many bands whose sole connection to the musical style had been a few singles by the Specials or the English Beat got it all exactly backward, with the punk influences drowning out what little Jamaican influence remained: the result was basically Green Day with horns, and it wasn't any good for anyone....
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The Aggrolites, The Aggrolites
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