Not Just Netta and 'Toy': The Best Israeli Music of 2018

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Guy Levy, left, and Gal Toren of Leyli.
Guy Levy, left, and Gal Toren of Leyli. Credit: Orit Pnini
Ben Shalev
Ben Shalev
Ben Shalev
Ben Shalev

Best Albums of 2018

“The Ceiling” – Iogi

Yogev Glusman served as a musician in various bands and projects for several years before sallying forth this year from the sidelines. He proved to be a marvelous songwriter, nourished by a broad spectrum of influences – from the soft rock of the 1970s to the indie-pop of the previous decade – which he sculpts into magnificent pop miniatures with a personal signature and a beautiful balance between sophistication and simplicity. This is one of those rare albums without a single weak or pedestrian moment. It’s pure gold.

“Zen Navigation” – Meshukatzot 

Rock guitar has long since ceased to be the preferred option of Israeli indie music. But there are still musicians who believe with all their might in the purifying, elevating power of the electric guitar. Their most outstanding and expressive representatives this year are the members of the duo Meshukatzot, Ran Yeshurun and Meital Ela.

“NightNight” – Syrup

Netanel Abramovitch, who calls himself Syrup, is an 18-year-old musician. The album he released early this year is amazing not just because of his very young age, but on an absolute scale. Syrup creates a different kind of hip-hop, primarily instrumental and introverted. It’s light-years away from the popular brand of Israeli hip-hop. His album “NightNight” has a clear style, emotional power, penetrating sincerity and, above all, a fascinating musical narrative about a journey into the night.

“Leyli” – Leyli  

Guy Levi is the bassist, producer, chief composer and secondary singer of the duo Leyli, which put out its maiden album this year. He’s also the double-bass player for the band LO, which released its second disc during the past year. This time with Gal Toren, and also with a particularly intense guest appearance by the Fender Rhodes electric piano. In Leyli’s music, one can hear Steely Dan, and also progressive pop of the school of Israeli 70s bands Kaveret and Ktzat Acheret. But Levy and Toren’s achievement is that they’ve succeeded in adapting this musical language to the present. It’s not a weak imitation of the glorious heritage of the past, but a contemporary reworking of its genetic material.

“Davka” – LO

Guy Levi isn’t the only Guy in the trio LO. The bandleader, the main Guy, is Guy Shemi, who just recently, after a long career as a guitarist in various bands, moved to the front and has proved to be one of the most original brains in Israeli indie music. Levi and Nir Waxman wrap Shemi’s lean songs in a sweeping vocal and rhythmic envelope. If the trio’s first album, which came out in 2015, was 60 percent thorny dissonance and 40 percent sweet harmony, this year’s album achieved a beautiful and moving balance between these two elements.

The best singles of 2018

“Happy as a Dog” – Anat Moshkovski 

The title song of the digital album Anat Moshovski released this year sounds like an old American jazz standard with a film noir mood, which, thanks to an unexpected plot twist, wound up in this day and age. It has breathing room, a spacious melody, a gothic sound setting and excellent singing. Listen to it in a loop.

“Shir Hachay’il” – Maya Belsitzman and Matan Ephrat

Seventy-five years of Israeli culture and Israeli experience are folded into five minutes of terror and beauty. Maya Belsitzman conducts a dialogue both with Moshe Gershuni’s paintings of soldiers (from the early 1980s) and with Yaakov Orland and Mordechai Zeira’s “Shir Hachayil” (from the early 1940s). With her wild cello, and her drumming partner Matan Ephrat, she mourns the eternal Israeli tragedy of soldiers going to their deaths.

“Sonnet 130” – Layla Moallem and Jah-Zee

“…music hath a far more pleasing sound,” wrote William Shakespeare, never imagining that more than 400 years later an Israeli producer (Tamir Muskat) and two rappers (Layla Moallem and Jah-Zee) would transform this sentence into a wonderful song based on rhythmic intelligence, crafty rap and a big load of female empowerment and challenge.

“Paris Time” – Tomer Yeshayahu

“It’s not Paris time / nor Prague time / It’s not Berlin time / You’ve already been in Sinai / It’s not Morocco time / And not yoga time / What time is it now?” In Tomer Yeshayahu’s clear voice all those negatives and the question mark at the end coalesce into a song that is entirely “Yes.”

“A Good Time” – Teddy Neguse

With or without the ZooLod hip-hop collective from Lod, Teddy Neguse is one of the outstanding rappers of the past year. Texturally, “Azikim al Hayadayim” (“Handcuffed”) is his strongest song, but in “Zman Tov” (“A Good Time”), there is also power in the music, which seems to burst forth from within an unsteady and threatened consciousness. Negosa relates to the popular “trap” style of hip-hop but at the same time keeps his distance from it. “I’m waiting for a good time … and it will come,” he says. Artistically, he is already here.

“Snail” – Sputnik Hi Fi

The song “Hilazon” (“Snail”) came out as a single two years ago but the album featured it was released only in 2018, and anyway the snail that stars in the song creeps along so slowly that it is beyond time. Therefore, we can be include it on this list. “Creeps on the hills, the plains, the green fields, the minefields / Abandoned villages, dark cities, between the campfires, in the empty libraries .. in wise men’s words, in stupid mirth, at the end of days, at the dawn of a new day.” No one writes like Edik Mitgartz, the Sputnik Hi Fi soloist. No one looks like he does at the Israeli reality from the outside and from the inside simultaneously, with the eye of an animator who is a fan of magic realism. And now wrap those words in reggae with an Ariel Zilber-ish twist.

Shani Peleg — “Doubt”

The single that Peleg, a favorite of this column, issued a few months ago, only about half a year after her previous and excellent album “Nitukim,” makes it perfectly clear that her amazing creative momentum is still with her. “Safek” (“Doubt”) is an intense and strongly expressive song, as is usual in her work (cutting and a pistol to the forehead appear in the text) yet nevertheless it is a bit lighter and airier than her previous materials. At least until the refrain ignites and takes off.

Roei Freilich — “Wolf, Wolf”

Freilich is one of the sharpest Israeli rockers on the scene, excelling in songs in which a vulnerable man places his hand on the shoulder of vulnerable woman and suggests that she look at the reality with a bit less melancholia and self-criticism. “Ze’ev, Ze’ev” (“Wolf, Wolf”), from the excellent album “Harigush Shebenifila,” is a kind of contemporary version of “Sunday,” which nearly a decade ago was a jewel in the debut album by Na’arot Reines (the Reines Girls).

“Nightmare” – Ra’ash

Amir Kertes, a guitarist and vocalist with Ra’ash, one of the best Tel Aviv rock bands of the 1990s, died this past January. The following day, the other band members (Johnny Shuali, Rea Mochiach and Oded Perach) released the song “Nightmare,” which had been recorded at the end of 1995, two years after the band’s wonderful debut album. This beautiful song, inevitably laden with additional sadness due to the circumstances, wanders back and forth between an acoustic song performed by a single vocalist and a song with the sound of a full band, reminding us how expressive Kertes’ anti-vocalist voice was and what beauty is created when his slender, emotion-loaded songs enter the resounding electronic field of Ra’ash.

“And I Haven’t Yet Said It All” – Arik Einstein

The text begins with the words, by Natan Zach, “And I haven’t yet said it all / And I still have what to say / Before it is too late / And the audience scatters.” The lovely melody, which moves along sinuously in a natural flow, is by Avner Kanner. And Arik Einstein’s rendition, so relaxed and so exact, could well be the peak jazz moment in his career. However, this song, which was recorded in 1976 or 1977, was never included in any album and was out of sight and out of mind, until its release this year. “I think Arik felt a bit uncomfortable with the text,” said Kanner. “For a singer in the middle of his career, at the height of his career, there is something major in saying ‘And I haven’t yet said it all.’ I feel it’s very appropriate that this song has come out now, after his death.”

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