Artikal Sound System Take Adventurous Approach to Reggae on Debut ‘Welcome to Florida’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Artikal Sound System is a reggae band from Florida that was founded in 2012 by Chris Montague (guitar) and Fabian Acuña (bass). The two developed as musicians playing behind Caribbean singers. Enter Christopher Cope (keyboards) and Adam Kampf (drums) and Logan Rex (vocals). With this revised lineup, the band turned toward a different sound and landed on a pop-tinged reggae sound that is the perfect accompaniment to sunny days.

Welcome to Florida is the band’s debut album, and it shows that the last 10 years have been well spent by the members of the band. It is an album of  frequently hard-hitting lyrics and breezy melodies with a range of moods from punk to blues. Don’t get the wrong idea – this is a reggae album, but some of the songs carry the spirit of other genres.

The lead track “Stayed” is a good example. It is an R&B sort of song in which Rex sings about the loss of a relationship that is complicated because “every now and then, doesn’t matter when, I miss you.” The song becomes even more relatable when she sings, “I still got you on speed dial just to make me smile. I haven’t called you in 96 days.” She puts the listener right there with her in that moment. There is a mixture of longing for a certain someone while being proud of the restraint shown in not calling that person. Of the song, Rex gave the sage advice, “Next time you’re thinking about texting your ex, listen to this song instead. This one is for when you know it’s for the best you’re not together anymore but you can’t help but look back and romanticize the past. So when that moment comes around, where you just want to wrap yourself up in the familiarity of someone you once had, play this song and then keep moving on”. 

“You’re an A–hole” is a pretty mellow melody, but the spirit of the sung is definitely rooted in punk. You can hear it in the lyrics, “You can f— right off. You can get right out. You can kiss my a– with your lyin’ mouth.” There’s no uncertainty in the message. She spells it out pretty plainly. The thing is, she does it in a voice as sweet as toffee, and that might be the most punk thing about the song.

No one is going to mistake “Bald Tires” for a blues song, but it certainly has the mood of a blues song. Like blues singers have done forever, Rex laments that she does not have the means to take care of necessary tasks like changing the bald tires on her car. You could say that this song is further proof that all music springs from the blues.

Like most reggae albums, this one has a song about getting high. The first lyrics in “When I Wanna”  are “I won’t lie. I went to bed high last night.” That is the launch point for this relaxed song that feels like it should be accompanied with a smoke machine just to make sure you get the mood right. In the middle of the song, Little Stranger raps some lyrics over a distinctly psychedelic melody that includes some reverb vocals that really capture the essence of the song.

“Cops and Robbers” stands in contrast to the other songs that have a vibe that is perfect for a day by the pool. This one is an uptempo ska song. While the bouncy melody gets you moving, the lyrics hit pretty hard, especially in the chorus where Rex sings, “Pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered. Don’t you end up on the wrong side of the knife.” It’s enough to remind you of early ska bands that didn’t mind packing a punch with their lyrics while they got you to dance.

Welcome to Florida by Artikal Sound System is an impressive debut album. The band has found its voice in easygoing reggae songs with real-life stories. It’s enough to make you want to hear what this band will do next.

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