The intent behind the Aggrolites’ first album in eight years, “REGGAE NOW!,” can probably be summed up in one song: “Groove Them Move Them.”
Over more than 15 years, the quintet’s “dirty reggae” has done just that, taking the seeds of Trojan Records and Studio One and cross-pollinating them with Motown, funk and punk. Founded in 2002 by singer Jesse Wagner and organist Roger Rivas, the Aggrolites first wowed L.A. crowds in the mid-Aughts as a bunch of worksuit-wearing guys whose relentless grooves and feel-good tunes could make an ice cube sweat. They released five albums and toured hard.
But after their 2011 album “Rugged Road,” though, the road got rugged. “I guess it just comes down to getting burned out,” Wagner says. “We lost motivation to record. We got to that point where we had to take care of our own personal lives. Everybody just needed time for themselves.”
The ensuing years found the band’s members — Wagner, Rivas, bassist Jeff Roffredo and drummer Alex McKenzie, now joined by new guitarist Ricky Chacon — recharging their batteries and dabbling in other projects. They played occasional shows and in 2015 made three new songs, all of which were re-recorded for the new album.
On “REGGAE NOW!,” Wagner’s crackling vocals and Rivas’ bouncy organ feel like getting messages from old friends. Lyrically, the Aggrolites have always ranged from fist-pumping seriousness to lovelorn confessions to humorous stories (for the latter, see “Why You Rat,” about a security guard who made Wagner’s life difficult at his old apartment complex). “Western Taipan” tickles your ribs; “People Win” arrives as a jaunty battle cry, invoking the name of “the great Cassius Clay;” and “Aggro Reggae Party” is just as it sounds, a shout-along to Rivas’ infectious organ. “We decided to keep it natural: Simple, two-chord reggae,” Wagner says of the band’s approach. “It’s feel-good music. We know what people like out of us. Let’s just be us.
“Our lyrics have always been light-hearted and making people smile and dance, with that vintage retro feeling in mind. That’s what the Aggrolites are about. The great thing about skinhead reggae is as beautiful as the music sounds, it’s also the most punch-you-in-the-face music ever, too.”
As has been their habit, the Aggrolites worked quickly, banging out the basic rhythm tracks for “REGGAE NOW!” in one day. “We like to keep it old school and record organically, like the Funk Brothers of Motown or the Hippy Boys of 1960s Jamaica,“ Wagner explains. “There’s that whole atmosphere and energy — get in a room and let that energy flow. We felt like teenagers again in a garage band. That came out in this record.”
Already, it’s gotten the stamp of approval of their elders. British icon Don Letts says: “The band’s old-school analog sound totally captures the spirit of the music I grew up on.” And the Specials’ Lynval Golding says the Aggrolites have “gotten it even more right, at exactly the right time.”
||| Stream: “Reggae Now!” in its entirety