Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Week in Review: Feb 25-Mar 2, 2018

Welcome to Week in Review, a new Yidwise feature I'm trying out. If you're wondering where this came from, or where I've been the past couple months, check out this post here.

So last week was Purim, which of course means a deluge of Purim singles hoping to capture the JM imagination. Some were good, some were weird, and others...well, we'll get to that.

Before we begin: If there's a song from last week that's not included here, I either didn't know about it, didn't get a chance to hear it, or didn't have much if anything to say about it. Also, hat tip to Yehuda Bradley of Yehuda's Jewish Music Blog for his tireless coverage of JM singles that made this post that much easier to research.

We good? Good.

The Weird But Awesome

Sruly Wagshal ft. Yoely Lebovits, "Hantigen Toog"



This will probably be the underrated gem of the week. The beat samples "Misirlou", a Mediterranean folk tune instantly recognizable to fans of Dick Dale and Pulp Fiction, and it makes for a pretty cool Hasidic party track that manages to keep the melody front and center. The two vocalists are no slouch either, delivering some surprisingly tight and entertaining rap verses, a hearty call-and-response pre-chorus, and even a sung bridge, all while switching effortlessly between English and Yiddish. It won't change the world, but if you're looking for something a little off-kilter for your next Purim party, definitely check this out.

Yehuda Galili And His Orchestra, "Taninim" (Crocodiles)



This one's a bit more self-consciously weird than the previous entry, but that doesn't stop it from being a ton of fun. With its driving guitars, vocals that range from pitch-shifted chipmunk to clipped choral chants to glam-rock high notes, and lyrical imagery that manages to be awesome without making any sense whatsoever, this is a surreal song, but a blast if you're willing to roll with it. If any of what I just described intrigues you, definitely check this out.

Rachel Kann, "Another Star/Another Queen"



Warm vocals, offbeat instrumentation, spiritually edifying lyrics, challenging subject matter, surreal music video - yep, it's a Rachel Kann piece. Here, accompanied by tension-building strings of violinist Lila Hood, the text seems to be drawing on the popular Jewish feminist interpretation of Vashti as an unfairly maligned victim of abuse. I have my own thoughts on that particular reading that are far outside the purview of this blog post, but when Kann gives such a potent portrayal of defiant hurt and desperation (both in the text and the video) and when the message of empowerment is so beautifully delivered, it doesn't really matter. Definitely give this a listen.

(Oh yeah tznius warning, half-naked lady, honestly who really cares, we're all adults.)


The Perfectly Fine

Zvulun Natanov, "Tzimaon" (Thirst)



This is Zvulun Natanov's debut single, and it's not a bad first impression. The reggae beat has some nice drums and organ, and Natanov manages to ride it pretty capably while working in some nice harmonies. The lyrics are fairly standard fare for a Chabad artist, but they work nicely with the song's groove and tone. Overall a pretty good listen.

Matt Dubb, "Adama V'Shamayim" (Earth and Sky)



I'm still not convinced of Matt Dubb as a solo artist, but so far his singles have been inoffensive enough for me to give him a pass. Here, some of the repetitiveness is a bit grating (particularly the "hey ya hey ya" chant on the chorus), but the more subdued atmosphere and the nicely abstract lyrics make it a decent enough listen.

Yosef Lowenbraum ft. Ely Shalom, "Odeh"




Nothing ground-breaking for EDM, but it's melodic and catchy and the vocals from Ely Shalom are pleasant and have the right amount of emotion. Certainly an intriguing sign for composer Yosef Lowenbraum's upcoming album. If you're a fan of this type of EDM, this isn't too bad.

Avshalom Sluk, "Masechot" (Masks)



A nice upbeat piano-soul track about letting go of "masks" and pretensions and being yourself. It's a bit slight, and it's not as atmospheric as Avshalom Sluk's other singles, but for a lighter song it's perfectly sincere and serviceable.

The Oy Vey 

Omen ft. Sruli Broncher, "Lechaim"



I'll admit, I've been steadily less impressed with Sruli Broncher as a producer since he first caught my attention back in 2016 with "Oy A Broch!". Rather than follow the creative, genre-bending promise of that track, he seems content to make boilerplate Chassidishe techno and EDM party songs without much to distinguish them. This is especially true with Omen, his attempt at a boy band (if you can call it that - it's mostly just Netanel Israel with three backup singers). Here, the dance-pop beat is so outdated, cluttered, and obnoxious, the vocals so drenched in autotune, the lyrics such cliche "raise a glass and let's party but also inspirational" cheese, that it might as well be a Black Eyed Peas song from 2009. Even if you're a fan of frum party songs, you can do much better than this.

Amiran Dvir ft. Sruli Broncher & Uri Lazerovich, "Ein Kmo Gedaliah" (There's None Like Gedaliah)




Poor Sruli Broncher's not off the hook just yet. I won't pretend to know anything about Shababnikim, the Israeli cable show this apparently ties in with, so I'll leave the lyrics alone (except to say that they don't make the show sound very interesting), but that just leaves the music to rip apart - the thoroughly unimaginative house beat, the hora melody* that's way too hokey for its own good, Amiran Dvir's nasal, lisping delivery, and the Lil Jon-esque shouting on the breakdown that gets really grating really quickly. Maybe if you're a huge fan of the show, but otherwise skip this.

*Update (3/7/18): It's recently been brought to my attention by Binyomin Ginzberg of Breslov Bar Band that the melody here is not a "hora" but a traditional Breslov nigun used for Kabbalas Shabbos and simchas. Blame it on the continuing trend of JM artists not citing their musical sources in the credits. He also correctly pointed out that I was probably too harsh on what is essentially a novelty song, for which I humbly apologize.



Gad Elbaz, "Save Me From My Selfie"



I am...not a fan of Gad Elbaz, especially his most recent album (for reasons that will hopefully become clear when I post my Albums of 2017 list), and this is easily one of the worse tracks off that album. Never mind the music (though the attempt to blend Mizrahi folk guitar with synths and a dance beat is pretty clumsy and weak), it's the lyrics that are the real nightmare here. As you might have guessed from the groan-worthy title, it's another song about the Evils of Smartphones, and any credit I can maybe give to DeScribe's "iSong" or Lipa's "Hang Up The Phone" is straight out the window here. From the host of unfinished attempts at wordplay, to the butchering of outdated tech terms ("In cyber I stay") to the confusing references to Playstation and Candy Crush, to the random paranoia about GPS spying on him, to the English so fractured you won't believe this man has sung multiple songs in the language, to the fact that he doesn't seem to realize that phones have an off button, to the sheer hypocrisy coming from a 35-year-old dance-pop artist who debuted this album on iTunes. Admittedly Gad Elbaz didn't write these lyrics, but the fact that it's on the album means he at some point agreed to record the song and have this drivel associated with him. It's just lame and infuriatingly disingenuous from beginning to end. If you haven't already, skip this.

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Whew. Sorry for all the negativity at the end there, it's part of the lot of a critic. If you have any suggestions for how to improve this feature, or any releases you want me to cover next week, feel free to let me know in the comments or on the socials (links are to the right). This ended coming out a bit later in the week than I'd planned, hopefully the next one will be a bit more prompt. Till then, thanks for reading and have a good one!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

An Update (aka Don't worry, I'm not dead, and also new stuff!)

Hey guys!

So you may have noticed I haven't really posted on Yidwise or JMU in the past couple months. There are a number of factors behind this: some other writing things I'm working on, the new semester of classes I just started at community college, the fact that I'm between laptops at the moment, and, as always, the fact that I'm an incurable serial procrastinator.

Anyway, to dispel any rumors of my death or early retirement, I thought I'd share some things I'm planning for Yidwise in the near and not-so-near future. Some may come to pass, some may not. C'est la vie.
  • I am planning a Best/Worst Albums of 2017.....of sorts. By which I mean, there were lots of albums that weren't the best or the worst but that I still wanted to touch on. So I guess its more a general summary of the albums I heard last year than anything. I'll probably stick with the original clickbait title, though.
  • Instead of doing a separate post for every new single or video that comes out, I'm going to try doing a weekly rundown of the bigger releases each week and briefly what I think of them. In this way, I'm hoping to spend less time on smaller pieces that are forgotten in a week and more on album reviews and other more in-depth posts.
  • This one I haven't quite figured out the logistics of, but sometime soon I'm planning to make Yidwise and Jewish Music Underground into one blog. I haven't figured out what to call it or whether it's going to be on Blogger, Wordpress, or some other platform, but it's happening. It's hard enough maintaining one blog, let alone two on two different platforms, and it seems silly to go to all that trouble when there's a ton of overlap anyway. I'll still continue making JMU and Yidwise-style posts once this happens, they'll just be on a different site.
So anyway, that's what's going on. Any questions about any of this, feel free to leave them in the comments below. A huge thank you to everyone who continues to follow Yidwise and JMU, and have a great week and a happy Purim.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Hanukkah Spirit From Female Artists: Sarah Aroeste, Rivky, Rachel Kann

At the end of a recent Forward article on this year's Hanukkah parody videos, writer Jenny Singer points out, "Why is the Jewish parody game such a boys' club? Next Hanukkah, we expect to see equal representation. You're on notice, ladies." She's not wrong, which is why we're going to look at some of this year's overlooked Hanukkah tunes from some unique female artists.

First up is Ladino songstress Sarah Aroeste with "Bimuelo". Featuring Jewish rapper Kosha Dillz, the track has Aroeste singing the praises of bimuelo, a little-known fried Chanukkah treat popular among Sephardim. The song can be found on Aroeste's recent bilingual holiday album, Together/Endjuntos.



Next is Broolkyn-based singer-songwriter Rivky, with her Hanukkah-themed cover of Joni Mitchell's folk classic "River". Transferring the song's original Christmas setting to the Festival of Lights but retaining the sarcastic melancholy of Mitchell's lyrics, Rivky's version more than lives up with strong, soulful vocals and a piano backing that skillfully incorporates the familiar Maoz Tzur melody. You can watch her bedroom session of the song below or hear the studio version on Soundcloud.


And last but far from least is spoken-word poet Rachel Kann with her composition "Hanukkah: Illumined Nation/The Rededication of Space". Accompanied by upright bassist Brock Pollock, Kann performs the piece, which invokes the story of the oil and calls on listeners to "flip the script" "when the world is upside down" with her signature passion and warmth.



Wednesday, December 13, 2017

My first post on Hevria

I recently had the amazing privilege to publish my first article on Hevria about an awesome new musician named Yaniv Hoffman a.k.a. Jeryko. You can check it out at the link below, and be sure to check out the rest of Hevria as well, it's a great site.

Happy Hanukkah From Yidwise

A freilichen Chanukkah to all our beautiful Yidwise followers. More music coverage to come shortly, but for now enjoy plenty of latkes and gelt and remember the miracle.


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Video: The Living Wells ft. Yitzy Fink, "Learning to Fall"

Alt-rap duo The Living Wells have released a video for "Learning to Fall", the latest single from their recent Folk Rap mixtape.

This version of the song differs slightly from the album track, adding in a chorus from singer-songwriter Yitzy Fink. The video, directed by Drew Feldman, features appearances by comedian Sarah Markowitz and former Maccabi Tel Aviv shooting guard Sylven Landesman.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Avshalom Sluk ft. Yonatan Dror, "Shutafim"

Israeli singer/songwriters Avshalom Sluk and Yonatan Dror have released "Shutafim" (Partners), the lead single from the former's upcoming debut album Lichyot (To Be Alive). The track was written by Sluk and produced by Dotan Moshanov.

The song, which poetically expresses submission to Hashem, goes for an atmospheric sound, with an echoing guitar sound and Sluk and Dror's ping-ponging plaintive vocals.


Monday, October 16, 2017

Video: Mr. Shabbos, "Borei Nefashos"

Hasidic entertainer R' Josh Alpert, aka Mr. Shabbos, recently released a video for his song "Borei Nefashos". Alpert composed the song and co-directed with Dovid Tenenbaum the video, which was also written by Alpert's wife, Pircha Alpert, and filmed at Camp Nageela in Lawrence, NY.

The track, a throbbing techno tune, is something of a departure for Alpert, who originally made his name in the JM underground, both as a Celtic/bluegrass solo artist and through association with Jewish punk bands like Moshiach Oi! and White Shabbos (his brother, Paul "Pesach Simcha" Alpert, drums for both). Not that his old identity has been completely discarded: Alpert maintains his cowboy-hatted look in the video, and parts of the song's melody have a distinct country twang.


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

"Kulam Sharim": Benny Friedman plus muppets

The new video for "Kulam Sharim", the latest single from Benny Friedman's most recent album Fill the World With Light, has some...interesting guests.

The clip, directed and produced by Chaim Hershkowitz, has Friedman interacting with the felt-covered puppet "cast" from the popular frum children's DVD series Mitzvah Boulevard. While the gimmick doesn't lend much besides an awkward framing device and some questionable instrument miming, the song itself - a bouncy dance-pop track courtesy of producer Sruly Meyer and composer duo Eli Klein & Yitzy Berry - is likeable enough to stand on its own. (Side note: What is with JM artists taking forever to release singles? This album came out almost a year ago.)

Nuriel Hadad releases "Emuna"

Kiryat Gat-based vocalist Nuriel Hadad has released his sophomore single "Emuna". (He debuted with "B'Rigei Osher" in June.)  The track, an oud-tinged Latin jazz/pop groove, was co-written by Hadad with Shai Ravizda, who also composed it, while Reuven Chiyun produced and arranged.

The 26-year-old Hadad has been musically active since 2006, appearing in several reality singing competitions on Israeli TV, performing with an orchestra at The Opera House in Tel Aviv, and getting significant local radio play from his debut single. It is unknown if a full-length album is in the works.