Tel Aviv Aftermath
Reviewed by Joe Lockard
Tuesday, December 3 2002, 04:16 PM
Electronic music has an aesthetic affinity with apocalypticism. More than most other contemporary music genres, electronica can capture the wordlessness and rage of end-of-days culture, voicing fears born of entrapment within existential threat. The sounds twist, turn, mangle, pulse darkly and fade without finish. A wash of desperation pours out of a sound assemblage, redistributing bleakness back into the world from which it emerges.
Tel Aviv Aftermath, a dark compilation album assembled by the Topheth Prophet label, captures this aesthetic ethos. It is an album that reflects the grim mood that has settled over the Israeli artistic world after two years of intifada. While no direct correlation with street events is possible or desirable, a sense of empained collective mood resonates in this album. Their experimentalism in underground sound studios, located near yet also distant from the violence, takes on a profoundly alienated coloration. Topheth is located at the center of the Valley of Gehenna, where Moloch's loyalists sacrificed children to the flames. The label's name, together with the title of this first album -- which includes bilingual Hebrew-English puns on 'after dead' or 'a dull party' -- all make a gloomy political statement.
There are few if any discernable notes of hope here, particularly since this is soundwork that springs from a global music culture profoundly different from the governing theo-nationalist culture in Israel today. The eclectic internationalism of the album's soundwork and artists separate it radically from Israel's pop mainstream and the ancient history of Hed Artzi ('National Echo'), the company label that served as an early Jewish national musical vehicle and is now a Tower Records affiliate. Fortunately, it also speaks to the country's healthy underground industrial and electronic music culture, more of which -- against expectations -- is located in right-wing Jerusalem than in secular Tel Aviv (although New Jerusalem Studios, where much of the album was recorded, is located elsewhere).
One Israeli review referred to this album as "contemporary communist music." That's true in a possibly unintended sense, in the sense that the album participates in a collective international culture and refuses narrow nationalistic limitations. Nonetheless, this is a pessimistic music reflective of its immediate social context. Despite the overall mood of dark fog that hangs over this album, there is a mixture of moments and talents. The album begins slowly with a meditative arrangement by Grundik + Slava, a compositional duo with an artistic kinship to 1970s German electronica. The pace picks up hugely with the New Jerusalem Defense Forces' 'Make Law,' a powerful, raw-nerved work. Igor Krutogolov (bass, vocals) and Vadim Gusis (rhythms) produce an intense, violent track interlaced with effects. There is an embedded rejection of ambient social violence packed into the work, part of the agonized resistance that characterizes much of the album. 'About a Man Falling Apart,' a solo soundpiece by Krutogolov, uses voice distortions to create an apparent portrait of psychological disintegration.
Chaos as Shelter employs a sampled shortwave 'spy message' in a track filled with chimes. That stylistic predisposition towards broad soundwaves appears also in Screening's 'Outlaw' and Ant Weiss' 'Ma Belle Chaotique', the former using a bass guitar and the latter heavily-textured generated sound. Working at the New Jerusalem Studio, HU contributes 'The Helmet' which experiments with an army helmet to extract much more than its usual dull thud. The experimental results are marginally more interesting than the group's originating artistic concept, a bizarrely neo-Platonic notion that every object accumulates spiritual energy whose energy can be extracted. Possessed people in Jerusalem claim that they hear the ancient stones speak, so HU should be able to pick up a lot of interview work with stone walls.
Some moments in the album attempt to capture a romantic sweep, albeit somber. Vectorscope's 'No Way to Deny the Dream' invokes a once-romantic dreamscape atop solid rhythms, one that veers too close to Jimmy Tenor for comfort. Vera Agnivolok's rendition of 'The Golden Skull', one of three vocal tracks on this album, is a ragged mix of stately chanting, piano accordion and other instruments. The album's penultimate track is a superfluous moment of silence dedicated to the victims of violence in the region.
A lengthy improvisation track by the Crossfishes concludes this album captures the stage brilliantly with an anti-war anthem that emotes horror. Although one wonders where the improvisation is heading during the first minutes, the musicians coalesce and their anti-war message emerges: 'Covered with come / covered with blood / covered with oil / covered with oil / then I took out a box of matches / and took out a match / and then I lit it / and then I set myself on fire / oh, I am a lonely candle in the wind / oh, can you see me burning? / Yes, we can see the bodies burning. Eleven dead in Jerusalem today, more predicted tomorrow. Voices explode in the street. Anat Weis's anguished wails build up to finish the album, a passionate warning against the hideousness of war. By its close, this album is anti-apocalypticism, a resistance to all-consuming violence.
Produced by The Topheth Prophet and New Jerusalem Studio