This Israeli rock scene currently sucks. Seriously. Almost nobody in the country even knows what ‘indie rock’ is, and the most popular kinds of music are apparently crappy trance and shmaltzy mizrachi music. I’ve searched high and lo-fi, in the present and the past, for good Israeli music. Not even necesarrily rock – just stuff that sounded good, honest. I’ve heard showtunes, traditional songs, rock songs, pop songs, mizrachi songs, DJ stuff, whatever – very little of it was particularly good, but what has been good, I’ve sometimes posted here in my little מנגינות ישראליות (Israeli Melodies) features. Over time, however, I have found a number of great Israeli albums that stood out big time from the pack. Here are my absolute favourites, most of which I’ve blogged about before in some way or other, but here they are all together for the first time in no particular order except what came to mind first.
Rockfour – HaOlam HaMufla (The Wonderful World) (2010)
This is probably my favourite Israeli album period. All in Hebrew – as all Israeli albums, I think, should be, cuz the Israeli accent/language difficulty often makes English lyrics sound dumb, though not always – this is a true psychedelic masterpiece. Interestingly, it came from a band that had been making albums for something like 20 years already, but for some reason only recently did they put out something not only truly good, but absolutely brilliant. It’s an album that works beautifully as a whole, takes inspiration from modern quasi-psych bands like Grandaddy and The Flaming Lips (more the former than the latter), and still, is bursting with great pop hooks at every corner. And to top it all off, as catchy as it often is, there’s a darkness and a seriousness to it that gives it all weight. This is no incence and peppermints album – like everything in Israeli, it’s complicated. You can stream the album off their bandcamp.
Vaadat Charigim – The World Is Well Lost (2013)
A very recent album, but I would say absolutely deserving of this list. Vaadat Charigim‘s debut is an excellent collection of intelligent, noisy pop songs that reference a number of Israeli pop culture items, such as 1990’s band HaMachshephot (The Witches) and comic artist Dudu Geva (at least in the video for the song “Lehitorer V’lo Lada’at” (To Wake Up And Not Know) ). I’ve been kinda trying to get an interview with the band since last year, but so far no luck. Regardless, the album is still great, just about definitely the coolest sound in the country at the moment. You can stream the entire thing right now off their Soundcloud.
Rami Fortis – Plonter (1978)
Rami Fortis is the closest thing Israeli rock ever had to an Iggy Pop. Israel is always behind the West in stuff, so he was making proto-punk in 1978, pretty much the peak of punk’s heyday, but whatever, he did it really well. Subsequent albums never captured the same spirit as this excellent debut unfortunately, so this gem stands alone, but the point is it still stands strong. You can stream the album off his bandcamp.
Kaveret – Staffuf Ba’ozen (Stuffed In The Ear) (1975)
The third, last, and best of the classic Israeli band’s original albums, here the band best manages to balance their humour, hooks, and stellar musicianship whereas previous albums were a little too inconsistent and unfocused. That being said, it doesn’t contain all the band’s best songs (like “Natati La Chayay” (I Gave Her My Life)) , so don’t stop enjoying them here – but, that being said, this is the best item by which to enjoy this wonderful band.
Bela Tar – Pulsar (2010)
Beautiful and supremely talented Zoe Polanski is the main force behind this wonderful, artful music project. Bela Tar makes sensitive, thoughtful indie rock music the likes of which you hear often in Canada but pretty much never in Israel. This 2010 album (which can be bought and/or streamed on bandcamp) is a solid work in its own right, though recent songs hint at even better future albums. I look forward to hearing them soon.
HaMachshephot (The Witches) – Ad HaOneg HaBah (Until The Next Season) (1994)
Let’s call this an Israeli band’s attempt to make some kind of interesting alternative music in the mid-90s without following the Western aesthetic template. Still a solid album with cool tunes, including the title track which seems to be something of a minor classic here.
Machina – S/T (1984)
I’ve only heard this, their first album, but I imagine it’s probably their best based on a number of things (sales, music trends in the 80’s, etc.). Maybe I should still check them out. Anyways – it’s 80’s ska-inflected pop/rock with lots of chorus effects on the guitars and a hard drum-machine sound but somehow the band managed to bypass many of the lamer sounds of the time and make something cool with enough edge to make it interesting even today. And there’s just a lot of solid songs here.
Uzbeks – Goggles & Flipflops (2010)
A great punk album that deals with political issues, just wish they sang in Hebrew. But their English is great, so whatever.
Those are the best. There’s some other good stuff, but it’s not as consistent. If anyone reads this and is outraged that I didn’t include their favourite album, please send (or write in the comments) suggestions – I’m always looking for more cool Israeli music.