Birthday Wishes is available at:
6th September, 2016
Pop; R&B; Soul; Electronic
Tel Aviv, Israel
Music, Lyrics; Production, Piano; Fender and Vocals: Yotam Mahler
Bass: Eyal Matri
Violins: Galit Rolbin and Yoav Bar
Cello: Yael Shapira
Beatbox: Adi Mahler
Mix: Noam Helfer and Roey Avital
Master: Matt Colton
BEFORE I come to looking at a truly unique musician…
his arrival (to my ears) has prompted a reevaluation of Israeli music and international acts; electronic music and the variations and mobility in the genre; looking at classic musical and bringing a sense of sophistication into music. I have been spending a lot of time interviewing various artists: getting to know what they do and the type of music they are playing. From sassy U.S. solo singers to British bands; all forms of life and musician – quite an eye-opening experience. It is fascinating getting to know artists and what goes into the creative process; where they come from and where they want to head. In the modern music age, everything is so disposable and quick: we never really sit down and take the time to discover a musician and what they are about. I bring this point up because I am not only getting a chance to feature a great range of artists but take my mind outside of London and the U.K. It is awesome promoting British acts but it is great getting out of the country and going somewhere else. It has been a while since I have ‘visited’ Israel – perhaps not since I reviewed ADI (Ulmansky). Many people are unaware Israel has a music culture, let alone one that is both modern and burgeoning. When one thinks of nations like Israel; you have the preconceived notions and ideas of what can be found. I guess, from an outsider’s viewpoint, there is that perception of rather localized, World-sounding music that has no commercial appeal and the chance of appeal – either that or U.S. /U.K. chart music infiltrating the radio stations and bars. That is true to an extent – the country embraces British and American sounds – but the nation has its own stars and bands emerging. Before I look at Tel Aviv on its own merits, it is worth looking at some of the best artists coming out of the country of Israel.
Many websites and publications made tips for this year – back in 2015 – but have not updated the lists in the last year-or-so. Maybe that means there are no new wave of great bands or perhaps those acts – that were tipped back then – are still making their way through. If one thinks about bands such as Orphaned Land, Mashina and Rockfour; Hadag Nahash and Monica Sex – a few examples of Israeli artists from the 1980s – present. Distorted Harmony, Garden City Movement and Hammercult are newer and more recent in terms of relevance – just showing the variation and genre-blend that one can find there. In terms of the new artists emerging from Israel – it would be foolhardy to overlook the likes of The Angelcy. The band came together in 2011 and have played festivals around Europe. Eclectic music – Folk, Reggae and Oriental among them – is backed by ukulele, flute and contrabass (among other instruments) and the ensemble are ones to watch carefully. Tamar Eisenman has already crafted a longlist of great songs. The self-produced star composes her songs in both Hebrew and English; working on a couple of albums and is a musician that has a distinct future. A Post-Rock/Electronic/Groove band: Tiny Fingers have played at festivals across the U.S. and Europe. Having just released their album MegaFauna; it is a forty-five-minute instrumental experience like no other – the four-piece band is one of the most distinct in Israel. Ethiopian looks/heritage and Israeli basing mean Ester Rada is one of the most alluring, fascinating and multi-cultural musicians around. Bits of Ethio-Jazz and Funk come with Soul-cum-R&B shades – a bright and brilliant young talent you should clear some time for. Tatran are the last Israeli act I will bring in and recommend. The three-piece instrumental guitar-bass-drum are as varied and eclectic as they come – the trio has released an album and have a very dedicated following in their home country.
Making moves and steps throughout 2016: they have the heart and talent to translate into Western markets and mainstream tastes. Before I come to my next topic – making my way to the music in question – it is worth investigating Yotam Mahler in the context of Tel Aviv. He is my featured artist and someone who takes inspiration from Classical music but the sounds and sights of Tel Aviv. It is not a surprise finding a Tel Aviv resident make such exceptional music and prosper. The city is the financial and technological hub of Israel and home to near quarter-of-a-million people. Not only a financial and technological epicenter: the city has a diverse nightlife filled with nightclubs and bars staying open to well past midnight – much more electric and exciting than a lot of British cities. A young and vibrant city: Tel Aviv has been dubbed ‘the best gay city in the world’ by American Airlines – a hugely popular destination for L.G.B.T. tourists and community. The city hosts a famous pride parade – the biggest in Asia – and attracts over 10,000 people a year. Throw into the mix the city’s luscious beaches and promenades – Hayarkon Park is the most-visited urban park in the country – you have that balance of L.A.’s sun-kiss shores and London’s cosmopolitan, vivacious night scene.
Mahler vibes from the city’s cultures and contradictions but draws heavily from the culture and classical touches of Tel Aviv. Not only inspired by Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich – two of his favourite composers – he learned a lot from the Jerusalem Academy of Music and is finding much influence and support in Tel Aviv. Electronic music is a genre that is as wide-open and varied as any out there at the moment. Perhaps in past decades, it was a more linear, less expansive genre – that is not the case in 2016. You only have to look around the find a plethora of musicians stretching Electronic music to its limits. Whether stirring it with warm Pop sounds or harsher Dance beats – maybe cinematic elements thrown in or something more omnidirectional and restrained. Given Mahler education and impressionistic leanings: his music has that age-old, traditional quality but a modern orchestral twist. The colours, textures and scenes the greats of Classical music painted have clearly resonated inside the young artist. He has been driven by their command, genius and innovation – updating that sound and teasing it with fresh and urgent strands.
Classical music is used by acts like The Cinematic Orchestra and, to a lesser extent, by a lot of modern chart acts. I hear so many musicians that employ strings and quartets in their songs: maybe something fuller and more sweeping. From Pop/Soul acts Lana Del Rey to bygone legends David Bowie: one cannot underestimate or ignore how relevant Classical sounds are in the twenty-first-century. The foundation and basis (debatably) for all music as we know it – strings and orchestral elements are hardly being employed ironically or casually. There is that inherent and unbreakable bond to eighteenth and nineteenth-century composers (especially). Following Romanticism and the period between 1800 and 1850 – where literature, art and music was defined by emotion and individualism – there was a move towards Romantic composers in the Classical genre. Although Mahler sources Tchaikovsky as influences – who had a wide stylistic emotional range and switched from salon works of little charm to tremulous symphonies – there was always a sense of tenderness and passion beneath the power – as defined in his operas and works like The Nutcracker Suite and Swan Lake. A lot of modern musicians possess elements and ideas of Tchaikovsky’s ballets and romantic work – there is a greater tendency towards more urgent, imperious string articulation. With that appropriate surname (Mahler), you get elements of centuries-old composers but there is that modern, contemporary outer skin. Not only do you get cross-pollinations of dance-floor and concert hall – you get a very personal and sophisticated musicianship. Birthday Wishes is a song very much for our time, but one that could only derive from a man like Yotam Mahler.
Birthday Wishes is the second single to be taken from (the forthcoming) What Is Your Art? E.P. It is pertinent we look back at Maher’s work to see how he has progressed. Last week I looked at Michelle O Faith and her song, Birthday Blues – questioning her achievements and taking a deep look at life. Mahler’s latest single is a more uplifted and (lyrically) hopeful song. It follows from Late Bloomer which begins its life with soothing, smooth electronics and subtle percussive clicks. A fusion of R&B and Soul: one is transported back to the 1990s with a little bit of Stevie Wonder thrown into the mix. Strings enter and yearn: swaying, graceful and curious as they rise and fall back down. When Mahler comes to the microphone; the first verse offers some revelation and curiosity: “Driving Through my attempts/I’ve been beaten up (you’ve been beaten up)/A sweet release/I can only be myself”. One gets impressions of vocal harmony groups (Boyz II Men, perhaps) but a more subtle, slowed-down version. Mahler layers his vocals and ensures his words are presented with complete commitment, passion and meaning. One feels he is referring to a sweetheart and the mistakes he’s made in the past. Being someone who has taken a long time to achieve and get where he needs to be – the song is a catharsis and explanation of the man he is today. Whether he is sending a message to a lover – or simply documenting his path in life and way things have changed – it is fascinating to get into his mind. Mahler’s voice is serene and sensual throughout; rising to a delicious falsetto before calming into a low-down, low-pitched contemplative burr. In that sense, one hears embers of early-career Prince: the way the voice can acrobatically work through the lyrics whilst never losing control. In the lyrics, the hero knows he can only be himself and can overcome the obstacles. Whether a person causes him strain or (life in general) is hard to take: he will make his way through it all and come out the other end.
Late Bloomer is a stunning and confident track from a young artist who seems fully formed and complete. Of course, Mahler has been playing music for years but few artists present something so cohesive, original and compelling the first time out. Birthday Wishes carries on from its stablemate – in terms of sounds and composition – but changes the lyrics slightly and addresses different themes. One can see some cohesion and consistency between the two songs – that distinct, cinematic sound; honeyed vocals and passion running throughout – but no shortage of confidence and presence. How the rest of What Is Your Art? will sound like will be interesting to see. Given what we know about the E.P. – the themes and stories being explored – it will be wonderful seeing what sounds and vocals go into those songs. Birthday Wishes is a worthy equal of Late Bloomer and proves Mahler is not a one-off fluke. He is a musician that brings together his Classical background but updates it with Electronic urgency and soulful sensuality. It is a busy and heady blend that one can dissect and examine: every time you hear the music, new things are revealed. This early command and quality mean future E.P.s and songs will grow and expand from this – that is quite a proposition.
I mentioned how Birthday Wishes was a more positive beast compares with Birthday Blues – perhaps there is a similar thread of doubt and self-reflection. Mahler’s once-a-year theme finds him starting in pensive and reflective mood. Before the hero comes to the microphone; there is a child’s voice – perhaps Mahler himself – that draws you back to the past and has quite a vintage, oldskool vibe. Mahler approaches and asks: “I want to receive my birthday wishes back/all these coins in the river”. Perhaps life is not going his way or things have not worked like he’d imagined. Maybe new events and unfolding have meant there is that desire to change things and get to a better place. In terms of composition, there are heartbeat-like, accelerated beats. It is quite a tense and racing coda but one that does not encroach on the song and its focus. What one notice is how meaningful and emotional the vocal presentation is. It makes one wonder whether something traumatic has occurred or a break-up, perhaps. Maybe there is just a general malaise and knowing things have not panned out like they should. Perhaps I am instantly assuming negativity. It may be the case (the song) looks at life in general and knows things are as they should be – no need to be superstitious and rely on talisman and good luck charms. It is an intriguing and deep investigation and one that compels the listener to involve themselves – rather than push them away. As the song kicks up a gear, that beat remains and keeps firm without combining with strings or electronics. By keeping things basic and sparse; it means the vocal is given a chance to shine and take central focus. The hero lets his voice glide but it almost breaks at times. Such is the emotion and themes being performed: it is quite a hard and emotional revelation. Between the first and second verse, there is little time for pause and reflection. The song keeps its energy flowing and does not drop a beat. “Hey world I have waited a while/I got more to say” suggests two possible avenues. There is that sense of mortality and a man starting to think about the end. Maybe the song looks at an older figure (or someone who feels old) and is unsure whether he has too many good years left. Maybe the song is just about a general fatigue and not wanting things to go by so fast. Mahler is a man who has seen the world and experienced a lot but is not in the mindset and place he wants to be. At the back of my mind, I am always thinking of relationships and a girl that got away. Perhaps there has been a recent collapse and that is weighing heavy on his mind.
That might be simplistic, although you can hear a very heartfelt and pure vocal. That voice is king and resonates directly with the listener. Able to present a sense of pain and loss with sexuality and something very primal and sweaty – you get a blend of urgency passion and contemplative maturity. I have mentioned artists like Prince and Michael Jackson: it is hardly an exaggeration to make comparisons between the artists. Mahler is an original and fresh musician but one who is deeply in awe of Soul and Pop greats. One hears the spirit of Prince and Jackson throughout Birthday Wishes. Our man lets it be known he has “waited a while” (a message to the world) and has much more to say. With every new line, one feels the shivers and longing emerge. It is by the second verse we get the first taste of strings. Most modern artists do not use strings effectively enough and see them as a bit of a novelty. Mahler has a definite bond and knowledge of Classical music and knows exactly how to elicit reaction and provocation. The strings have a definite grandeur and gracefulness and a real sense of class. Mahler’s voice is quite considered and never rushes. It is always slowed and calm; it does not feel the need to explode of race through the gears. This means the lyrics are easy to understand and appreciate; the meanings and expressions have better a chance of affecting and the listener does not feel harried and overwhelmed. It those newly-introduced strings that cause one to lean in and try to jump into the song. Our hero keeps the words and supplications coming: “Hey world keep my lovers around/I got more wisdom to pass them on”. After the first time through the lyrics: Mahler goes back to the start and gives the lyrics a bit more speed and intensity. Combining with Eyal Matri’s bass; the violin of Glait Rolbin and Yoav Bar; the cello of Yael Shaprira and the beatboxing of Adi Mahler – it is almost like an orchestra one is hearing. The lyrics are no less striking and meaningful when repeated. If anything, they pick up new relevance and seem to reveal more of the puzzle. It is tempting to find fatalistic ideas within the lyrics – a man that is down on his luck and defeated.
I find the song more hopeful in the sense Mahler wants to change and make things better. Perhaps this run of bad luck is what leads to a drive for betterment and fulfillment. Birthday Wishes is a track you are bonded to and appreciate the first time you hear but start to get inside the more you hear it. Not a song you can have in the background and just ignore: it demands some attention and the listener to immerse themselves in the music. It shows and unites all Mahler’s training, musical teaching and love into the one song. A delirious and stunning blend of ‘80s-‘90s Soul with Classic edges and modern Electronic elements – a wonderfully rich and compelling song. The vocals are consistently pure and sensitive but have a definite wounded heart and need for hope – you almost want to hug Mahler and let it known things will get better. There is never the sense (the hero) is wallowing and hopeless. He is always working and pressing; searching and questioning his mind and trying to get life back onto a sturdier track. You should listen to the song for the composition alone which grows and develops as the song goes on. The strings captivate and are luscious: they rise and have that cinematic grandeur. Almost like a drive through the Hollywood Hills: a blend of black-and-white film romance and symphonic rush. It is a brilliant and unforgeable instrumentation that not only has an emotional effectiveness but paints images and moves the story on. You feel the hero is driving away through the dusk and heading to a new destination – where that is will be down to the listener. By the end, you are happy for having heard Birthday Wishes and got into the mindset and world of Yotam Mahler. Another exceptional and memorable song from a fine young artist. Even stronger than Late Bloomer in terms of nuance and instantaneousness – make sure you check it out now. Credit must be given to Noam Helfer and Roey Avital who mix the track superbly and ensure all the notes and themes merge and hold naturally. Matt Colton’s mastering is exceptional too and the trio provides the song a gloss and polish that emphasises all the notes and vocals without diluting things and making the sentiments sound fake.
What is Your Art? is the forthcoming E.P. from Mahler and will arrive later this autumn. There is too much attention and focus paid to critically-approved artists and chart-friendly musicians. It might be risky embracing someone a little more ‘unique’ – a human that does not fit into conventional moulds and tries something different. Yotam Mahler is not completely separated from modern sensibilities; far from it, in fact. Late Bloomer was the lead-off single from the E.P. and laid down the foundations. Following it up with a tremendously fascinating and personal track – one that causes you to wonder and delve deeper – it is likely to be a sensational work. Mahler resides in a nineteenth-century home near the Mediterranean Sea and the wall-to-wall paintings and high ceilings are the source of inspiration and wonder – Mahler sees it like stepping into a museum. The half-Israeli half-Danish was raised in a secular community but never lived the established, traditional lifestyle – Mahler connected with Gospel music at a young age and performed at pluralistic synagogues in Jewish-Israeli communities. Feeling drawn and connected with his Jewish roots: the young musician-in-waiting brings his Classical, religious and community spirits into music that spills over with experience, pride and curiosity. Prior to Mahler completing his E.P., he had just completed a Hebrew-only album that was ready to be released.
Unfortunately, a hardware-related mishap and freak accident meant the product was destroyed – Mahler starting from scratch and producing his English-language E.P. instead. What is Your Art? will see talents such as Noam Helfer and Roey Avital (from city-mate band Garden City Movement) come into the fold. It is not just the Classical elements that come into the work. Gospel and Soul play heavy roles and is almost uncredited characters in the story. The 1990s’ finest Soul sounds combine with lush string arrangements – all iced with wall-of-sound vocals and tense atmospherics. Late Bloomer was influenced by a daily Jewish morning prayer whereas David and Jonathan (a track that will feature on the E.P.) derives from King David’s lament for Jonathan – a new, inter-faith Romeo and Juliet-type love affair. When one looks at Mahler, you get an almost mythical figure who has a traditional, semi-religious heart and soul and the bones and blood of a young man in a modern city. Whilst working in his Tel Aviv studio – a transgender prostitute worked nearby at night – Mahler conversed with the prostitute and learned more about the life experience being discussed – that directly influenced the E.P. title track. If Birthday Wishes, Late Bloomer and David and Jonathan have more transcendent, divine and ecumenical derivations: What Is Your Art? is more lively, heretical and vivacious. The song captures the street-life in a prism of sound and love-filled vocals: a performer in awe of Tel Aviv’s multiple sides and side-alley dramas – stories and mini-dramas that unfurl during the night; dormant and tender during daylight hours. It (the title track) is not just a paen to the multitude energies of Tel Aviv: it questions contradictory chatter of society and anodyne criticisms that is levied at the pure and honest. With its street-walking, yet utterly charming, ignition: the song protects and promotes the fascinating, kind people that are often the target of subjugation, discrimination and bigoted imperiousness.
Before I bring everything down to a close; I wanted to look at the opening points about international music and Classical/Electronic seduction: artists that have depth and originality and how sophisticated, refined musical chemistry can lead to something ethereal and affirmative. I have mentioned Israel (Tel Aviv especially) and how prosperous and busy the country/city is. If you ignore and walk by Tel Aviv, then you are not only overlooked a bustling and beautiful city – you risk missing out on a whole world of wonderful music and fantastic talent. People stick to stereotypes and assume a particular country is going to have ‘national’ music and nothing that can be classed as digestible, appealing and commercial. That could not be further from the true when you think of Israel. In previous posts, I have examined nations like Sweden, Canada and Iceland: looking to subvert expectations and clichés we have about the nations; the types of music that will emanate from here. In terms of Israel, one might assume Asian music – employing traditional instruments and themes – will be all you’d hear. True, there are some Israeli acts that perform in Hebrew and have a more ‘local’ and traditional sentiment. Tel Aviv is one of the music world’s fastest-growing epicenters and is producing wonderful Pop musicians and Soul acts with African and European origins – and some terrific, tight bands. How many of these heralded artists will translate and integrate into British/American charts is hard to say. There are plenty of modern Israeli musicians that have the potential to be big stars in the future. ADI – who I name-checked at the header of this review – is a Future-Beats musician who addresses deeper themes – depression and anxieties – through kaleidoscopic electronics and soul-pounding, scuttling beats. Yotam Mahler is someone who seems at home and in love with Tel Aviv and Israel. He is provided a wonderful, rich music scene and a fantastic blend of history, faith and exciting nightlife – between the beach and the monuments, all manner of inspiration awaits!
It will be interesting seeing how Mahler progresses in the next few years and whether he choose to remain in Israel or moves out to Europe or the U.S. A lot of Israel’s best artists are touring continents but choosing to remain at home – clearly, there is a supportive and opportunity-laden music scene for young artists in the country. Perhaps not quite as prosperous and commercial as nations like Britain and America: there is something about Israel that is keeping musicians rooted and satisfied. Given the reaction and praise Mahler’s work has been given so far, one would assume he will consider a move in years to come. London is a city that seems ready-made for him – he is looked after by Brick P.R. based out of East London – and there is a Tel Aviv-esque vibe to London – albeit without the beaches and some of the glorious landscape. Perhaps the national following or clement environment will see him rooted but I would love to see Mahler perform live and spend more time in the capital – tour Europe and the U.K. and bring his music this way. In that sense, there is a big U.S. market that awaits. I mentioned (half-jokingly) how Tel Aviva brings the best of London and Los Angeles into one city. The sun and panoramic beauty of Los Angeles might tempt the young Mahler to tour and spent some time there – similarly, the energy and unpredictability of London is a seductive and alluring mistress. How that will translate and resonate with Mahler is hard to say but one feels he has a lot of places to visit.
His music is already established and known in London and one suspects there are U.S. sources that are similarly vigilante. It has been great investigating Birthday Wishes and the story of Yotam Mahler. He is a musician that perhaps embodies the new generation of Israeli artist but someone many here (U.K.) will not be familiar with – in terms of similar personalities and sounds. Mahler has that classically-trained heritage and a combination of religious/Jewish teachings and that love of Gospel and Soul. Maybe there are British artists as intriguing and interesting but I have found, over the last few months, there are not that many that distinguish themselves from the rest – all sort of looking the same with similar back-stories. Ensure Yotam Mahler is part of your new music rotation and get to understand the man behind the music. He is a fascinating human and someone whose E.P. is sure to establish him as one of the finest young musicians in Asia – a possible mainstream fixture in this country down the line. I always enjoy the opportunity to assess international acts and what is going down in their corner of the globe. Not only have I been afforded the chance to dig deep into the treasure chest that is Tel Aviv but discover an artist that prompts one to think and dig deep; gets the mind and imagination working and creates smiles, warmth and admiration. There are many English words to describe Yotam Mahler but, with regards to Hebrew, the young master…
IS simply מטריף.
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