This Israeli Indie Band Will Make You Weep and Jump for Joy

Ben Shalev
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Buttering Trio in 2015.
Buttering Trio in 2015.Credit: Ben Kirschenbaum
Ben Shalev

Buttering Trio’s new album “Jam” doesn’t quite sustain the same level of tension throughout – Best to think of it as a very good EP with a few less-successful bonus tracks, and just be happy that it’s found its way into the mainstream.

A friend of mine was beaming as she described to me how enchanted she was the first time she heard the song “I Cried for You” on the radio. Up until that moment, she had never heard of, or heard anything by, Buttering Trio. She hadn’t seen them at the inDnegev Festival or the Ya’arot Menashe Festival. She had never been to those festivals or any others like them. Until recently, you had to go to places like that if you wanted to hear Buttering Trio. But in the last few weeks, ever since “I Cried for You” entered the playlist on Galgalatz, Buttering Trio has become well-known and legions more people who aren’t usually part of the Israeli indie tribe have come to love the song – and for good reason.

First of all, because of the groove – cool and frothy disco that makes you shimmy your shoulders more than your hips and is reminiscent of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” without letting the similarity interfere in any way. “I Cried” features the funky-smart bass of Beno Hendler, the warm, bright vocals of Keren Dun, soft and open jazzy-soul harmony, a brief and clear text (“I cried for you, now it’s your turn to cry for me”), and the finishing touch – as far as I’m concerned anyway – the sweet and eccentric synthesizer riff that repeats toward the middle of the song, and culminates in a crooked and amusing question mark. You can just feel Rejoicer, Buttering Trio’s synthesizer and sampling wizard, smiling as he plays that phrase, and you can’t help smiling right along with him.

Every good indie song that makes it into the mainstream is a cause for celebration, and what makes it even more so in the case of “I Cried for You” is the great sense of ease exuded by the song. In general, there’s something very relaxed and nonchalant about Buttering Trio, both in their stage presence and in their music. For better or worse, Hendler, Dun and Rejoicer don’t project any great passion to reach bigger audiences. They do what they do, and anyone who wants to listen is welcome.

Well, now a lot more people are listening, and ironically, that is thanks to a song taken from a mostly improvised album – “Jam” – that was recorded in just three days at the Kol Hacampus studio as part of its Haraka album project, in which groups record albums within a short period of time. Eleven songs in three days – which means that “I Cried for You” was written, produced and recorded in just a few hours. You can almost picture one of the band members saying – Hey, let’s do something with a rhythm like “Get Lucky” – and the other two being keen on the idea and joining in. However it came to pass, it was largely spontaneous and unplanned, and it’s nice to see a hit come out of a process that is the antithesis of the usual commercial way of doing things.

“I Cried for You” is the anchor of the new album, so perhaps it’s no coincidence that it’s situated right in the middle with five tracks preceding it and five following it. “I Cried” is the most pop-spirited of all the songs, but that’s not to say that the rest are just amorphous jams along the lines of “let’s just choose a beat and whatever happens, happens.” Even though the tracks were created on the spot, that doesn’t mean they lack vision, intention and a certain focus. It’s intuitive but still concerned with structure, dynamics and musicality.

This doesn’t mean that the album is uniformly successful. The first half is very good, with a lengthy opening section that sets the mood, followed by two tracks that are pleasing in their compactness. “Master of Rockets” manages to be minuscule and terrific all at once, with a sound that hints at being a parody of Portishead. Then the album gets away from the miniature and moves toward the predictable, with a couple of tracks that are still quite good – “Circles” and “God is Sitting.” And then it’s time for “I Cried for You.”

The second half doesn’t work as well. It doesn’t have any really solid songs to anchor it, nor another miniature flash of brilliant quirkiness. The tracks meander somewhere in the middle and don’t leave much of an impression. “Jam” is not an album that sustains tension throughout – though perhaps that’s too much to expect given the circumstances in which it was made. Maybe it’s best to think of it as a very good EP with a few less-successful bonus tracks thrown in.

In any case, Buttering Trio made excellent use of the temporary home provided by Kol Hacampus, and may well have been the last group to be able to record and release material as part of the station’s Haraka album series. The series, which has so far yielded six albums, was created and promoted by Lior Rahmani, until recently the Kol Hacampus station director. Rahmani was let go not long ago, apparently because of budget cutbacks; now the station’s staffers, with clipped wings and no director, are unable to continue this wonderful project.

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