Thievery Corporation has always been known for its multi-culti blend of textures and trends—sitar meets acid jazz, trip hop takes on bossa nova tones, etc.—and the guests on every album boasting half a dozen accents. So, it was compelling to hear them focus on their Brazilian influences on 2014’s Saudade. In honing in on one particular set of skills, the duo produced their most distinctive album yet.
The follow-up, The Temple I & I (ESL Records), seems to be to a sequel of sorts. Recorded in Jamaica with a bunch of new guests—including roots singer Racquel Jones, political rapper Mr. Lif, and reggaeton artist Notch—Temple focuses explicitly on traditional reggae sounds as a source of inspiration. Most of the tracks featuring Notch (“Strike the Root,” “True Sons of Zion,” and “Drop Your Guns”), for example, would not be out of place on a Trojan sampler. Other songs (e.g. “Letter to the Editor,” “Weapons of Distraction,” and the title track) update the traditional sounds with slightly more contemporary electronics beats and breakdowns. These production embellishments are, thankfully, unobtrusive to the evocative vocals, but they don’t always elevate the material. The best moments on the record start with reggae beats and bass as a foundation, but then move far beyond traditional expectations. “Time and Space” stands out amongst the sound-a-like filler tracks, staying true to dub prerogatives but moving beyond its parameters.
For the most part, though, these matters and methods have always been a prominent part of the T.C. mix. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen them live, but “Thief Rockers” would have blended right in with their set, and “Love Has No Heart” could be from any record they’ve released in the last 15 years. But another issue is that this record is about five tracks too long. It feels counterproductive to complain that an artist is giving us too much, but this album is supposed to be about focusing on a particular set of strengths, and those strengths are diluted. Hiding inside The Temple of I & I is a thoroughly enjoyable collection of Jamaican roots and experiments, but that strong statement is difficult to hear among the mediocre noise.