Fans have waited four years for Rochester, NY’s Thunder Body to release new material. Solstice (Rootfire Collective, 2017) was intentionally made with a couple year gap between recording sessions. During that time, drummer/singer/bandleader Matthew O’Brian and keyboardist Rachel Orke had a son, their relatives and friends had children, and so parenthood became a focus for the duo. Along the way, Thunder Body gained and lost some core members and added a three-piece horn section. Thunder Body played live shows around the Rochester area this entire time, but rarely toured too far away from home. Therefore, they were able to somehow progress and expand while staying completely the same. The Old West quality of the instrumentation that has followed Thunder Body since conception persists, sometimes with the guitar style, often with Rachel’s organ and melodica.
No mentions of JAH, no mentions of ganja- and yet the deepest messages of reggae are present in Matt’s sparse, poetic lyricism. The words are literary in fashion, if not also simplistic. Themes of one love, connection, admiration for nature, and humility curve through every song, without any cliché reggae rhymes whatsoever. Straight-up: no reggae band on the scene today comes close to what Thunder Body is doing. My biggest criticism of Solstice is how little of it there is, clocking in at 36 minutes and 10 songs.
Many of the songs are about the nuclear family of Matt and Rachel. “Jasper Sage” is named after their son, on which Matt offers, “Always be sweet to women/ especially your mom/ She keeps giving and giving.” He wears his heart out on his sleeve, addressing his son directly. “You were born in the thunder/ born in the lightning/ and then you and your mom were all right.” “Elliot’s Song” ends the album, and Elliot is their nephew, son of Chris O’Brian, drummer for Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad. This is more of a prayer, trickling out in a timeless manner: “Angel of joy/ Heavenly father/ watch over this boy,” Matt asks.
“Moonlight Over Mendecino” is one of the rare reggae love songs that includes zero clichés and zero cheese. “I wanna go where I don’t need no/ telephone or computer connection,” Matt sings as if perpetually on the West Coast; “When I get home/ you’ll get my best affection.” The song’s bridge helps showcase the rest of the band’s character.
All the songs, especially “What’s Sweet About Lemons”, “Solstice”, and “Trainyards” hold onto mystical, theological, theoretical, and insightful musings. The instrumentation always fits the lyrics effectively. The production and style of the music is such that non-reggae fans will probably enjoy Solstice anyway. Thunder Body remains very indie, very set in their ways, and even though the songs have a consistent weightless feel, it’s clear they take their work seriously. Each album, Wind Blows Harder¸ Radioactive, and now Solstice tackle different angles of the same themes.
As a work of art, Solstice is spot on: dosing creativity with tradition. This is exactly what we’ve all been waiting these years for. A great addition to this Thunder Body of work.