At the start of the song “Home,” the sixth track on her new album, Ester Rada meets a former lover on the street. “God, you are still beautiful,” she sings. And then comes the kiss. Actually two kisses. “You kissed so I kissed back,” sings Rada. These are short kisses, actually pecks. The two former lovers (and the song asks, among other things, if there is such a thing as “former” in this context) try to play it cool, to pile up a little representative snow on the peak of a bubbling volcano.
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And then something wonderful happens: After the word “back,” in other words, at the end of Rada’s return kiss, the music stops completely. Silence. For a split second. But this split second is enough to freeze the picture of the song, and the listener will be overcome by at least some of the feelings that are overcoming the two (former?) lovers at that dramatic moment. Confusion, passion, anger, happiness, regret, guilt, love – of course. So much emotion in a split second of absolute quiet, of no-music, which is in effect lovely music.
Almost five years have passed since Ester Rada took the stage as a total unknown at the InDnegev Indie Music Festival, and immediately, within minutes, became one of the great promises of Israeli music. In the years since then she has fulfilled the promise in almost every sense. She has made good music, accumulated a loyal audience in Israel, made a name for herself abroad. Only one thing was missing: an outstanding album.
Rada’s debut album, which was released over three years ago, was almost there, but because it had several producers, and because Rada herself was then at the start of her career, it lacked a certain degree of focus, of a clear and durable aesthetic choice.
Rada’s excellent new album, “Different Eyes,” is painfully aware of the need to choose and to decide, and that’s the main reason why it’s better than its predecessor. Toward the middle of the album you hear the voice of a little girl, a kind of Alice in Wonderland, who says (in English): “How do you know if you made the right decision? And if it hurts someone, does it mean the decision wasn’t right? Ah! Why are there so many choices?”
Since several songs on the album are about breaking up with a partner, and because the strongest and most fraught emotion in the songs is guilt (one of the songs is called “Mr. Guilt,” and in other songs the words “blame” and “shame” are heard repeatedly), the impression is that in terms of emotion, the entire album centers on the decision to leave, to break up, and on the reverberating consequences of the decision.
The musical story of the album is also related to a decision, namely Rada’s choice to work with one producer this time – and to do so with the musician who calls himself Shuz. Shuz is a wonderful musician who works under several names and prefers that there be no links among them. We will respect his wish to remain evasive.
The first word that comes to mind to describe his work with Rada is “biting.” Not in a hurtful way, only alert, with-it. Rada and Shuz seem to have decided to remain on the major playing field of soul and R&B, but to do so with an original and surprising edge. They’ve succeeded, big time. “How can you know if you’ve made the right decision?” Sometimes you simply have to listen.
Ester Rada – “Different Eyes.” Fit Fit Records