Israel’s Most Exciting Album of the Year

From joie de vivre to a fear of death: ‘Harsh,’ the new album by the band Deaf Chonky, is contemporary Israeli rock at its peak

Ben Shalev
Ben Shalev
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Deaf Chonky, April 16, 2020
Deaf Chonky, April 16, 2020Credit: Malkiella Ben Shabbat
Ben Shalev
Ben Shalev

The quarantined person is being bombarded now from all sides with suggestions for passing the time and suppressing his anxiety. The 52 best series on Netflix, the 34 most interesting podcasts on Spotify, the 18 most relaxing nature films on National Geographic, the nine tastiest recipes for a vegan cracker.

With all due respect to each one of them, before you are drawn into the endless marathon that they offer, in the spirit of the times, accept an unequivocal recommendation for the best animated clip now making the rounds of YouTube, or at least the best Israeli animated clip, or at least the best animated clip for an outstanding Israeli rock ‘n’ roll song.

DEAF CHONKY - X-RAY BABY

The song is “X-Ray Baby,” from the new album by the Deaf Chonky band, and its clip (the lovely design is the work of Elia Lea Yihie) presents three dancing skeletons with the external features of the band members. The red hair of guitarist Adi Bronicki, the black hair of drummer Tami Kaminsky and the curly brown hair of the new acquisition, bassist Tom Mckinna (until now Deaf Chonky was a duo).

The idea for the dancing skeletons clip probably originated before the pandemic and is related to the X-ray motif of the song, but this contemporary danse macabre assumes even greater amused horror in the present situation. And most importantly: With its confusing and fascinating combination of joie de vivre and fear of death, it serves as a perfect appetizer for Deaf Chonky’s new album “Harsh,” which is one of the best albums to be released here in recent years – contemporary Israeli rock at its peak.

The album cover for Deaf Chonky's 'Harsh.'
The album cover for Deaf Chonky's 'Harsh.'

Adi Bronicki and Tami Kaminsky came onto the Israeli indie-punk scene three and a half years ago, when, only 18 or 19, they released Deaf Chonsky’s debut album, “Farsh.” In the new album they have a song called “This Isn’t a Gimmick, This Isn’t a Test.” Do they mean to say that then, when they were so young, they were seen as a gimmick? Maybe. Already then they were far more than that. Their exciting debut album can be summed up in a few words that will undoubtedly arouse the vomiting reflex of Bronicki and Kaminsky, with their radical awareness: There is a future. Their new album is a thrilling, almost perfect fulfillment of the promise of their debut album.

In outstanding rock albums there is usually a volatile encounter between two basic elements – passion and musicality. That’s what happens in “Harsh.” The searing passion of Bronicki and Kaminsky is closely related to their sensitivity: To the pain etched into them by their friction with the world and with the Israeli reality. The pain is translated into anger and Bronicki and Kaminsky stick voodoo pins anointed with the venom, militarism and racism that poison the local atmosphere, and with leftists who instead of fighting flee to New York and Berlin.

But what makes the passion of Deaf Chonky deep and mobilizing is not the texts, but their sharp physical dimension. These are not thoughts, they are physical sensations. The songs of Deaf Chonky are full of organs and tissues. The situation not only worries and infuriates Bronicki and Kaminsky, it penetrates their body, invades it, threatens to subdue it. There is only one way not to let it win – to fight back. To shout. They shout, together, at the end of the song “Frontline”: “I want everyone to know my heart is bleeding.” You can search as much as you like, and you won’t find a more moving, exalting shout in contemporary Israeli rock.

Passion combined with musicality

Within the punk tradition, in which Deaf Chonky works, passion is usually a necessary but insufficient condition for creating an excellent album. When the pain and the anger, as real as they are, are not backed by original music that is full of momentum, the work remains one-dimensional and limited. “Harsh” is a wonderful and very unusual example of an album whose musical level is just as high as the level of passion, which is revealed gradually.

Bronicki and Kaminsky return repeatedly to the mantra “They won’t want you when you’ll get older,” on this Gothic keyboard. If by “they” they are referring to those who populate the ruling systems that create the reality, “they” don’t want the members of Deaf Chonky even now. They’re young, they’re women, they make noise with guitars and drums, they sing about bodies floating in the plastic-filled water in Tel Aviv and Gaza, and they have now released what looks like the most exciting Israeli album of the year.

Deaf Chonky – “Harsh,” an independent release.

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