Finally, an Israeli Indie Band That's Not Afraid of Its Roots

The Isaiah band’s fusion of folk-rock and Oriental music comes at a time when the Israeli indie scene is looking for voices that are more connected to the region.

Zohar Ralt

There is nothing more boring than to start a review with a biography of the band being reviewed. An imaginary biography is far more interesting – the band’s story as the listener creates it in his mind from its sound. Obviously, there’s no connection between the second type of biography and the real thing.

Isaiah, then, sounds like a band that was created by two brothers who grew up in a home in which the iconic group Kaveret was listened to a lot. Eventually the two became musicians and went their separate ways. One, turned on by American folk-rock, went to the West Coast to take in the San Francisco sound and hung out there in clubs and vintage-guitar stores. Finally, though, he realized he would never make it as an American folk-rock artist and returned to Israel in the hope of finding the musical angle he lacked.

His brother took the opposite route. He turned to the Orient, absorbed its music, and upon returning to Israel traded in his acoustic guitar for Eastern or Balkan stringed instruments – bouzouki, cumbus, saz. He tried to find his niche in ethnic groups but wasn’t comfortable in a sharwal. He too looked for that missing angle.

One day, in the midst of their search, the two brothers met. The folk-rock brother played one of his San Francisco songs; the other brother, feeling an itch to join in, did so with his bouzouki. Click. Search over. The first brother found a way to connect his songs to his Israeli biography; the second found a space that would allow him to play his bouzouki without doing the Greek thing. Result: the Isaiah band.

But no. That’s a totally imaginary scenario (except, maybe, for the Kaveret part.) There aren’t two brothers. He, Tomer Yeshayahu, the band’s leader and composer, plays the guitar and the bouzouki; she, Mika Avni, writes the lyrics and plays the harmonium, a keyboard-type instrument associated with music from India. Yogev Glusman is on drums and bass guitar. Their meeting probably has a story, but we’ll stick with the imaginary one, which arises naturally from the music and reflects its charm and distinctiveness.

More than sound

Isaiah’s “folkiental” sound arrives at a propitious moment on the Israeli indie scene, which is losing its patience with imitative acoustic songs in English and inviting in voices that are more connected to the region. But Isaiah is more than its sound; it’s also the songs that Yeshayahu and Avni write, and in the band’s new album, “Days of Daydreams,” Yeshayahu turns out to be a musician adept at finding the melodic hinge that opens the door between a nice song and a good one. Though not always – some of the album’s songs don’t go beyond nice, but there are also quite a few good ones, such as “Days of Daydreams,” “Solitude,” “Go Sister” and “Baby Bird.” Those songs would work even in regular acoustic arrangements, but are enhanced and honed by their folkiental quality.

Still, it’s clear that Isaiah can’t base itself on this sound in the long term. There are already a few places in the second half of the album in which a certain staleness creeps in – the band will have to reinvigorate itself in its next album. And also improve the vocal element. Isaiah’s material, with the San Francisco flashbacks (as in “All the Leaves Are Brown”), simply begs for high-quality vocal harmony. There are a multitude of vocal harmonies on the new album, but not of the high-quality type. The singers aren’t good enough.

Avni’s voice is barely audible, so the possibility of hearing a male-female duet is squandered. Yeshayahu’s unaccompanied vocals raise the suspicion that he suffers from the syndrome of singers who don’t open their mouth wide enough when they sing. That’s unfortunate, not catastrophic. Many indie singers who warble with their mouths wide open would give their eye-teeth to put out an album as lovely as “Days of Daydreams.”