No other modern reggae band has risen quite like Iration. They are at once a throwback to feel-good reggae while drawing from current pop-rock for inspiration – a sonic fusion that makes them the perfect mood-setter for day-to-day beach cruising. Bands like Ekolu and Kolohe Kai may already reign supreme on that front, but there’s always room for more. Whether you’re looking to kick back, dive in, or straight up dance, this five-piece outfit has got you covered. Their latest self-titled album arrives at the head of a promising summer, heralding a redefined and wholly new era for the band. This 16-song set is their lengthiest effort so far, but that’s hardly a cause for complain; Iration’s latest will keep the good times rolling long after the sun goes down.
“Already Gold” starts on the upbeat, heads already bobbing that by the time the full-blown sound kicks in you’re already immersed in Iration’s sweet irie. The band has been doing this for over a decade now. They know the atmosphere they want to capture, they know the genre like it’s their lifeline; everything is guaranteed to be a hit at this point that all they need to do is hop in the studio. It’s already gold.
If all they need to do to churn out hits is record, then all we need to do is hit play. Bass bumping, horns blaring and vocals gliding seamlessly into chorus, “Press Play” is destined to be the reggae jam of the summer. Iration’s last album was released in 2015. A sampling of their first two songs off the new album proves they’ve hardly missed a step.
What makes reggae so distinctive is its emphatic use of bass guitar. Where others favor guitars, synthesizers and turntables to highlight their sound, Iration reminds us that bass is a key part of the ensemble, a melody all on its own. “Twisted Up” pushes the bumbling rhythms to capacity courtesy of bassist Adam Taylor. Make sure your car can handle the grooves. Stock stereos won’t fly with Iration.
“Broken Promises” allows lead vocalist Micah Pueschel the space to shine, his uttering of the chorus both smooth and soulful like a tranquil beach at twilight. The song’s cascading trumpets lend a unique symphony to the tune, and Pueschel starts to sound more operatic as he goes on.
Don’t be intimidated by “2GÜD2BTRÜ.” Not a new internet slang; it is exactly as it sounds. The song charts the struggles of life on tour whilst managing relationships back home. The band recognizes how lucky they are with lifelong commitments sublimely too good to be true.
“Danger” features fellow reggae sensation J Boog whose center-stage MC’ing adds oomph to Iration’s jive.
The jive is where Iration lives, the upbeat rhythms, the vibrant melodies a mere hum away. “Losing My Mind” encapsulates that impulse to let go and let the melodies take you (I still smile while it all falls down) along with a breakdown repetition of the song’s title that is both melancholy and enchanting.
“Stay the Course” opens with the sound of rushing waves, perhaps foreshadowing life’s unforgiving current, the song then a tuneful plea to steady onward: You might get scared you might get lonely/Thinking about ways you could lose the path. Determination has never sounded so catchy.
The band met while growing up in Hawaii, but they formed as a group while reconnecting in college at Santa Barbara, California. In 2006, they had their first EP out and didn’t start touring until 2008 which is when they really took off. Their carefree vibes meshed perfectly with the party culture of college. (College culture is often fascinated by reggae; you’ll know at least one person with a Bob Marley poster.) Iration’s sole ambition was to record and jam, but their rounds through the university scene launched them into the stratosphere. A drunk audience may be any performer’s best friend, but there is something to be said of capturing the undivided attention of an entire generation. Their fanbase spans the Pacific and beyond, Iration bringing the waves and the kick-back vibes with them in tow.
“Know Your Name” marks the halfway point of the album, but Iration keeps the rhythm flowing.
It’s but an appetizer for the following track, “Last to Know,” Iration’s first ever disco-fevered party anthem. There’s no reading between the lines here, Micah spiritually channeling Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough.” (Move to the beat to the beat don’t stop.) You can practically see the panels lighting up the dancefloor. It might be their crowning jewel off the album, a track that is simultaneously different than anything they’ve done and yet completely and utterly them in sound.
Perhaps most reassuring of all is Iration’s penchant for catchy lyrics. Choruses are often distilled to a single line or phrase – a deliberate openness on their part, an invitation to the listener to jam and sing along. Both “Energy” and “Hit List” feed off this connection as dual easygoing songs encouraging you to put your feet up on the dashboard.
There’s a political edge to “Borderlines” that feels especially poignant given the ongoing debate over border security. You’ve got me breaking the borderlines/And I just can’t stand being confined. Iration has up until now refrained from political subtext in their music, but it’s clear this subject has struck a nerve: You don’t wanna see our kind round here/Miracle that we made it this far. “Borderlines” represents a promising foray into political expression should they choose to steer that way in the future.
“Fly With Me” is a purely laid-back tune that threatens to rock you to a cloudy slumber, while “Warm Waters” is quietly aimed at the personal: And I get low, and I get high/Trying to stay clear of the changing tide. Circumstances often pull us to the deep end, but it’s our resolve that keeps us afloat.
Iration ends on a subdued note. “All for You” is all acoustic, no less thrumming, and an ode to the love and intimacy of music. Artists will keep singing of love until the end of time. Iration is no different. They’ve often stated that they’re all about love. “All for You” is them continuing the mantra with a starlight serenade to cap off the night.
Iration’s latest is a sprawling effort that traverses the terrain of love, inner struggle, and the political while maintaining their trademark kick-back atmosphere. This is the reggae album of the summer – no small feat seeing as bands like The Green or Kolohe Kai could give them a run for their money. Nevertheless, Iration has solidified themselves as this generation’s Sublime, 311, Pepper, though such comparisons might rob them of their own rightful distinction. Self-titling is a bold statement as far as their discography and their mark in the genre, or rather, a benchmark. This is Iration and they’re not going anywhere except up.
Adrian Manuel is a freelance writer. He’s published articles on Thought Catalog, written a flash piece for A Quiet Courage, and submitted feature essays for The Good Men Project and Mamalode. He also runs an entertainment news blog where he reports on film, television, and music. He lives in Maui.