The Aggrolites

Reggae
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Editorial Review

The Aggrolites have backed the likes of Tim Armstrong on his solo record and ska icon Prince Buster in concert, but it took a Nick Jr. TV show and a song about a banana to give the group its biggest audience.

"The 'Yo Gabba Gabba' thing was cool," said singer-guitarist Jesse Wagner. "We were kind of wary about it; we were wondering if we would be known as the banana band, or the kid's show band, but it's actually been nothing but a great thing for us."

While the diaper-changing masses may be attuned to the Aggrolites' rock-steady grooves, the seven-year-old soul-reggae band is still figuring out where it belongs in the modern music world. The band's latest CD, "IV," sounds like classic Jamaican music from the late '60s and early '70s: rootsy reggae that was still sweaty with the sounds of Motown. But that kind of music is considered "oldies" in today's reggae world, particularly in Jamaica. "It's all crazy, gangster dancehall stuff" on the radio down there," Wagner said.

But the punk world that has embraced the Aggrolites -- their albums are released on Armstrong's Hellcat label and the band has toured with Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly -- is often looking for something angrier.

"We've always tried to make really happy records," Wagner said. "I've always looked to music to forget about everyday stress and troubles. And a lot of bands do a great job singing about politics and do a great job at singing about troubles, but I enjoy listening to music to get away from all those kinds of things."

"IV" is packed with 21 songs that will make you feel better. Crashed your car? Play "It's Gonna Be OK." Lost your job? Try "Keep Moving On." Catch a brick upside the head? Pop on "Feelin' Alright" for some solace, even if it's a temporary respite before the swelling kicks in.

The Aggrolites' prolific songwriting is based on a very simple exercise: "We'll just jam out rhythms and record them on the spot, like they did back in the day," Wagner said. "We could pound a good 10 rhythms in a few hours. That Tim Armstrong [album, 'A Poet's Life'], we did 14 songs in one day."

That organic simplicity of reggae plus the passion of The Aggrolites' delivery -- particularly Wagner's Toots Hibbert-like whiskey-soul croon and Roger Rivas' organ-funk licks -- is what makes the band's music so captivating and timeless. "Everybody loves reggae," Wagner said.

Toddlers couldn't agree more.

--Christopher Porter, Express (June 2009)