Indie reggae artist Jonathan Emile has been quietly building up quite the solid reputation in the last few years, cutting a handful of sleeper hits in the mid-2010s that included a collaboration with arguably the most important rapper of the last decade in Kendrick Lamar (2015’s “Heaven Help Dem”), and now in 2020, he’s back with some of his best content to see widespread release so far in Spaces-in-Between. Made-up of ten exquisitely exotic and, more often than not, profoundly personal tracks that touch on reggae, mento and R&B simultaneously, it’s easy to see why Jonathan Emile is getting as many accolades as he has been lately in Spaces-in-Between, which is quickly becoming one of the more talked-about records out of the underground this month.
This album’s crown jewels, singles “Try a Likkle More” and “Moses,” feature raw emotionality that you just can’t find on the mainstream side of the dial every time you flip on the radio looking for new music, while “Rock & Come Over,” “Emptiness” and “Keep on Fighting” are a bit more instrumentally expressive than I was initially thinking they would be, but together, all of these songs exhibit the multidimensional elements that make this artist so unique to his scene, and more importantly, his genre. He’s got nothing to hide from us here, and he isn’t about to use sonic props as a means of concealing heartfelt narratives in this record.
I love the harmony in the Chanda T. Holmes collaboration “Liberation,” as well as those in “Babylon Is Falling – 3.0” and “More Than You Know (feat. Ezra Lewis),” and I think that, in these instances at least, the colors within the music tell us just as much of a story as any of the lyrics do. Emile is using whatever channels he can in his quest to impart big feelings to us in Spaces-in-Between, which alone makes this a far more vulnerable effort than the typical reggae LP out in 2020 is.
While I was anticipating a lot of fireworks when I sat down to review Jonathan Emile’s new album this week, I wasn’t expecting to be as taken aback by the quality of the crooning, the musicianship behind the melodies, and most of all, the honest nature of the harmonies as I was here. The bottom line? Spaces-in-Between is sometimes gruff, always accessible and could potentially prove influential over a generation of emergent reggae players who could use a rebel at the helm of their forthcoming revolution.