The late 2010s were leaving a lot to be desired amongst alternative artists in the underground, but with 2020 upon us at last, a new wave of exciting releases is as well – starting with Jonathan Emile’s fascinating new reggae disc, Spaces-in-Between. Led by the fantastically surreal “Try a Likkle More,” Spaces-in-Between is an eclectic (and sometimes eccentric) little album that sweeps listeners off of their feet with the passionately poetic confessions of its singer and the salient melodies – most of them string-based – that join them. You don’t have to be a big reggae fan to dig what Emile is dishing out here, but for those of us who are, it’s a one of a kind offering.

You can tell in “Try a Likkle More,” as well as the splendid “Moses,” “Keep On Fighting” and Ezra Lewis-featured “More Than You Know” that Jonathan Emile has a deeply personal investment in all of the material here. His passion spills over and fills in the ends in “Canopy,” and in “Rock & Come Over,” there’s an oddly melancholic subtext to the lyrics that can’t help but influence our interpretation of the verses as they stand on their own. Emile’s feelings meld with melodic adrenaline incredible well, even in slow songs (which isn’t easy for any artist to pull off, regardless of talent).

I would love to hear “Babylon Is Falling – 3.0,” “Rock & Come Over” and “Emptiness” live and in person some time, as I get the impression that they crafted specifically to be enjoyed in an intimate venue. Emile has a presence in this record that could be downright dreamy if it were to carry over to the stage with him, and judging from the construction of these three tracks in particular, I’m all the more excited to find out for myself.

Though I normally don’t go for reggae quite as experimental as this, Spaces-in-Between and especially “Try a Likkle More” were simply too good for me to pass up as being anything other than brilliant this February. Jonathan Emile isn’t playing with major label money, and yet he brings the sort of carefree attitude into the studio that once made this genre of music one of the most enrapturing of any originating on this side of the Atlantic. I’m eager to see how his story unfolds, and more important than that, the kind of music he produces as the decade starts to take shape.

Sebastian Cole