These Two Young Israeli Musicians Are Well Worth the Listen

Tal Fogel conjured up an album that is both calm and stormy; Flora's debut album opens with an invitation you can't refuse.

Ben Shalev
Ben Shalev
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Flora. Perfectly tailored songs.
Flora. Perfectly tailored songs.Credit: Louisa Sticklebruck

1. Tal Fogel was the most focused and interesting voice at this year’s Ya’arot Menashe indie festival. Considering the fact that dozens of new singers and bands performed there, this was no small feat. Fogel, 24, appeared at the start of the first evening of the festival, when there wasn’t much of an audience yet. Only 20, maybe 30, people saw her, but whoever was there was exposed to a young singer whose sweet voice, incisive lyrics and expressive guitar playing merged into a sharp creative knife.

While Fogel’s performance had an immediate effect, her new album, “Aremot shel Halomot” (“Piles of Dreams”) has a cumulative effect. After a superficial hearing, one gets the impression that the recorded knife blade is much less sharp than the live version. The first two songs don’t surround Fogel’s sweet tone with an exciting musical environment, so they come off sounding childish. If the sound is going to be unripe, better bitter than sweet. Entry into the album seems to be closing fast.

But then comes the third song, “Character Assassination,” and the album opens up with a flurry. The tempo picks up, the breath gets shorter, the bass and drums give a thunderous beat, the dense musical environment (shaped by Amir Groman) recalls Tal Gordon’s wonderful debut album, but with a contemporary twist. Fogel’s lyrics are strong and defiant, and the whole album is charged with the same energy of that performance.

This charge turns out to be irreversible; so it is with murder. The song that follows “Character Assassination” is similar in nature to the first song on the album, which didn’t impress that much, but in this case it’s situated within a fully fleshed-out creative world, and the effect is totally different. This time the sweet slowness seeps in and leaves a residue, which just gets thicker and deeper as the album progresses. This is another great virtue of “Pile of Dreams.” Not only does it have good songs, they’re arranged in a sequence that has been given careful thought. If “Character Assassination” is the storm, the calm that follows steadily thickens until you reach the album’s high point – the title song, which lasts nearly seven wonderful minutes. Then there is a certain release of tension, and it’s delightful to find that, in the last song, Fogel shifts away from her typical serious and stormy tone, and lets herself relax, in a song with a cheerful beat, “The Best Things.” And it’s not exactly optimistic. The best things, Fogel sings, end without saying a word. Her album also ends without a word, which is a very good thing. Five minutes after the end of the last song, a hidden instrumental track is suddenly heard: two minutes of naked electric guitar. An original and beautiful ending to one of the best debut albums in recent times.

2. Here’s another very good album by a young singer. Her name is Flora (a stage name; her real name is Liron Meshulam), and her new album, unlike Fogel’s, opens with an invitation you can’t refuse. The song “Everything is Here” begins with a creeping synthesizer and rhythmic hand claps. Then comes an electric piano that immediately calls to mind Booker T. & the MG’s immortal tune “Green Onions.” It plays a simple and irresistible bass line, and then Flora comes in and sings, “Stay after midnight… don’t tell nobody.” A few sounds, six words, and we’re already deep inside a very pleasurable film noir.

One of the nicest things about Flora’s short album, which contains just six songs, is her creative use (along with Benno Hendler, who produced the album) of keyboards and synthesizers. Almost the whole ablum is based on the sound and feel of the keyboard, but contrary to what often happens, Flora and Hendler manage to maintain focus without getting locked into a particular keyboard sound. The salute to Booker T and the electric piano of the 1960s doesn’t contradict the contemporary (though not very snazzy) sound of minimalist beats, and they live together on excellent terms, along with gentle and precise touches of ‘80s keyboards, which can set the heart aflutter for someone who grew up with the real thing.

None of this would have worked if Flora didn’t know how to write good songs that are perfectly tailored to the small size of her voice. Only once, in the last song, “This is Happening,” does she jump out of the ring and try her hand at a song with an aggressive beat, one that begs for a singer with much bigger lungs. But this is a very minor reservation. We are left with five songs that stay after midnight – a very impressive achievement for any album, let alone an EP.

Tal Fogel. Strong, defiant lyrics.Credit: Yoav Picharsky