Mizrachi Music Meets the Scorpions in Promising Israeli Pop Act

A pretty good album lurks behind Peer Tasi's single, 'Peace Road.' If this is what Hebrew mainstream pop music sounds like today, maybe things aren’t all that bad.

Ben Shalev
Ben Shalev
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Peer Tasi. An uncommonly good use of vibrato.
Ben Shalev
Ben Shalev

Like all of the pop music industry at present, Israeli Mediterranean pop is more a market of songs than of albums, with most of the creative energy is being channeled into singles. The albums, even if they’re padded with a few good hits (which isn’t usually the case: one good hit is generally considered an accomplishment), tend to be overly long, include an overdose of filler material, and quite often collapse completely after the midpoint mark.

Mediterranean pop albums that justify the old long-play format are few and far between. I mean an album that doesn’t expend all its energy in the singles arena and maintains its quality and interest throughout. A case in point is the new album by Peer (pronounced P’air) Tasi, “The Power of Love.” If this is what mainstream Israeli pop music sounds like in 2015, then maybe our situation isn’t as bad as some make it out to be. And even though it’s still too soon to know how the album will sell, the sweeping and justified success of the single “Peace Road” intimates that “The Power of Love” is going to be a rare and happy case of a good mainstream album that rings up excellent sales. No other similar recent example comes to mind.

Until a few weeks ago, Tasi, 30, was known mainly to aficionados of Mediterranean pop. His successful debut album of 2013 got plenty of plays but didn’t reach the broad, genre-crossing public consciousness. In the past few weeks, thanks to the success of “Peace Road,” Tasi has climbed a level or two in the edifice of Israeli pop music, to the neighborhood of Hangar 11 in Tel Aviv Port or the “culture palace” (the Bronfman Auditorium) in the same city. If you’re not into the Mediterranean market, you might know Tasi as “the singer who sings like Eyal Golan,” a Mediterranean pop megastar. In fact, the great resemblance between the singing style of the two is undeniable. Tasi is decisively influenced by Golan’s singing, to the point of imitation. He’s not an original artist. Nevertheless, I find him to be one of the best and most refreshing voices in Israeli music today.

Let’s start with the singing itself. Tasi adopts completely the Eyal Golan style of high, soft, nasal Mizrahi-Yemenite vocalizing. He also makes considerable use of the beloved Eyal Golan tactic of the soaring variation – that is, sending a word or a musical phrase into a higher orbit than the already high place it would occupy in the basic melody.

But Tasi is not a total Golan imitator. The timbre of his voice is similar but not identical, and his trilling is not exactly that of Golan. Tasi’s trill comes together or alongside a lovely and uncommon use of vibrato. Thirty seconds into the album, as he revels in the lines “Today everything is free, everything is open, everyone is dying for love,” it’s already obvious that he is capable of turning a standard song into a beautiful one. Which is a very important quality for a singer.

Not that his materials are mediocre. Well, some are, but some are good. In contrast to singers who only perform, or those who only write, Tasi does both. He is a talented songwriter and composer, and he also has a flair for choosing writers. A number of writers, but primarily Avi Ohayon, provide him with decent and even lovely materials in this album. “The Power of Love” far from exhausts the potential of his hits. I am betting that the terrific ballad “Another Time,” lyrics and music by Tasi, will soon be a huge hit, as will “Dancing with the Pain,” a kitschy but effective fusion of Mizrahi and the Scorpions.

Tasi’s songs are not free of clichés and well-worn romanticism, but most of them are not one-dimensional. They are peopled by human beings whose thoughts and feelings are more than a millimeter thick. From this persepctive, “Peace Road” is a key song. It conveys a living, breathing picture, not a tattered postcard. The woman is the initiator without being cheap and vulgar, and the man lets her lead without being worried that this leaves him looking weak. Tasi himself gives a similar impression. There is no sign that he aspires to be an alpha male. Let’s hope success doesn’t change him.

This album also has another element that is almost nonexistent in Mediterranean pop: humor. It is seen mainly in two songs. “A Simple Guy” is a playful cry for liberation by a man who is fed up with his girlfriend’s consumerist emptiness. Its nifty punch lines are: “Love is no game and you’re not for me / So hey, bye-bye, warm regards to my mother-in-law.” “On the Way to the City,” which is about a fellow who finds out that his girlfriend is a lesbian, goes further with the nonsense and also seems to quote the iconic Israeli rock bands Mashina and Teapacks (or Tipex). The writing isn’t sharp enough – in fact, it’s clumsy – but props for going there.

“On the Way to the City” is the 11th song on the album, and with the next two cuts turning out to be mediocre or less, there seems to be nothing more to look for here. But there is. “Dina Dina,” the penultimate song, is a nice rhythmic Mizrahi retro number, and “Don’t Be Sad,” which for the first few seconds sounds like another banal cut dedicated to Mom, turns out to be a very fine song, with a text about loss and coping, and a sensitive melody that evokes Amir Benayoun but doesn’t sound like an imitation. It’s a marvelous conclusion to one of the best recent Israeli albums.