Sunday, March 7, 2010

2 from Shemspeed: Darshan and Dreams in Static

When I stand in front of people, virtually or physically, and tell them that we're in a silver age of Jewish music, exhibit A is often the Jewish hipster record labels Shemspeed and JDub. Labels successfully packaging Jewish music, approached from both religious and cultural perspectives, for hip 20-somethings? If that's not evidence that something fabulous is happening, I'm not sure what would be. So I look forward to every new release from these labels and am always happily surprised and challenged by them. These two albums, though, don't quite live up to my expectations.

Darshan's Lishma EP album coverThe first album, Darshan's "Lishma EP" has taken me a month or so of listening to get into it, but I'm getting there. Here's their official blurb...
Darshan is "astral rap, liturgical jazz, audio alchemy. Harmonizing Hebrew chant with hiphop, folk rock with electro-pop, love poetry with kabbalistic psychology, Darshan is a unique and organic weave of world wisdom traditions and modern musical styles"
Darshan is a project of one of my favorite new vocalists, Shir Yaakov, and rapper & producer Eprhyme. Driven by Shir Yaakov's liturgical melodies and slow slow slow delivery and built on Ephrhyme's equally slow, staticky productions, this album sounds in many ways more like an Aphex Twin electronica album than it does hip-hop. I'm not sure that it works. There's a riskiness; a certain urban dreaminess to it that I can appreciate, but also a certain grinding tedium I can't. I'm told by folks that have seen them that their live show is outstanding. I can believe it. The raw material in these tracks is great. I could see Yotzer Or, my favorite track on the album, shaking the house. I can imagine the interplay between Shir Yaakov's melodic vocals and Ephryme staccato rap. The EP, though, seems held back by the lack of stage energy.

Why imagine it? Here's Darshan performing Yotzer Or at their album release party a couple of weeks ago.

Good stuff. But for me the EP doesn't quite live up to it.

Similarly, the second new Shemspeed release, Dreams in Static, draws on a large sonic palette, but the resulting picture is a bit blotchy. According to the official blurb,
"Dreams in Static conjures up the aesthetic of James Bond, Prefuse 73, & Pulp Fiction. Each song is the soundtrack to a film in a genre of its own. This is music that exists beyond pop and yet overflows with it. Serene Poetic strikes a balance between Diwon, a Brooklyn-based hip-hop producer, and Dugans, a multifaceted guitarist-composer from Texas. Using live drums, samplers, analog synths, electric pianos and guitars, Dreams in Static transcends genres and breathes new life and depth with each subsequent listen. The album teems with life, beauty and depth; it's an instrumental masterpiece that resurrects live instrumental music and guitar-based symphonies. It pops in a world where popular music has been left in a state of static."
Ok. Whew. That's a lot to cram into an album. And the album feels a bit crammed into. I'm an electronica fan from way back and can be really happy with broad-brush sonic adventures like this. At its best, this recording is happily deconstructive, breaking down pop genres into bits and reassembling them into long tone poems. My favorite tracks, including American Pastoral and Standing in Shadow live up to hype. They have a rich internal life that gets me immediately invested. Many of the tracks, though, sound more like demo reels than a movie soundtracks. Sounds flicker and weave, but never resolve into anything. I really dug this album when I first listened, but over repeated listening it didn't wear well. Your mileage may vary...check Dreams in Static out on their myspace page and in this video. Let me know what you think.

Dreams in Static feat. Eytan "I'm Gonna Get Back Up" Live

I do want to point out that I'm a big fan of Diwon, and in particular love his Tikkun Klalki remix. Download it from Shemspeed here. And check out the video.

Tikkun Klali # 10 (diwon dancedancetantz remix of Erez Yechiel)

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