Pop music: Return of the prodigal son

Asaf Avidan begins to conquer the world.

Asaf Avidan (photo credit: MOJOZ)
Asaf Avidan
(photo credit: MOJOZ)
 It was only a matter of time until the rest of the world caught on to Asaf Avidan. The 34-year-old impossible to categorize singer/songwriter with the androgynous Billie Holiday-meets-Robert Plant voice has spent the last decade dropping jaws locally with his haunting, intense music, first with his band The Mojos, and more recently as a solo artist.
And thanks to regular touring and an unauthorized remix of his acoustic dirge “Reckoning Song” by German DJ Wankelmut that have received some 150 million YouTube views and became a dance hit, Avidan has made inroads into the European market as well.
However, with this month’s release of his second solo album, Gold Shadow , Avidan is ready to branch out. He just completed a three-week US tour, appearing at showcase clubs like the 930 Club in Washington DC, Irving Plaza in New York and the Paradise Club in Boston. And following two homecoming shows this weekend at Hangar 11 (last night and Saturday night), Avidan is going to spend the next month headlining shows across Europe.
Initial reviews of the new album, his first official release in North America, and his reconstituted show with new band members (Dan Zavitan on bass, Zohar Ginzberg on guitar, Gadi Peter on drums, Liron Flora Meshulam on keyboards and Mikey Bashiri on vocals and percussion) have been encouraging, to say the least. NPR’s First Listen program gushed that “Avidan has written a batch of killer songs that make use of one of the most compelling and unusual voices I’ve ever heard,” adding that “It’s easy to listen to Asaf Avidan and not know if you’re listening to a female singer from long ago or a guy singing 21st-century pop songs.”
The Record in San Francisco wrote that Gold Shadow “is the rare record that sounds like it could have been recorded any time in the last 40 years, with production touches that range from Van Morrison to Sam Smith, with stops on Broadway and German cabarets along the way.”
And the accolades weren’t only for the album.
A review of the DC show in What’s On Tap described the “symphonic levels” that Avidan and his five-piece band brought to the music.
“Every note, every lick, and every melody is tight and compact, there is no excess fat on these musician’s output.”
In an interview with the LA Music Blog ahead of his show in Los Angeles there earlier this dining radio television events movies highlights month, Avidan explained the transition that he and his music has undergone since he started out.
“The first three albums I made were with the group Asaf Avidan and The Mojos, which was this blues/rock/folk thing. When I left The Mojos and made my first solo album, Different Pulses, which came out about two years ago, it was very important for me to define myself sonically. I really put a lot of thought into the aesthetic wrapping of the songs that I was writing,” he said.
“When I started writing Gold Shadow, it was obvious to me from the get-go that I didn’t really care about the generic orientation of the songs. All I really wanted to do was write good songs... If a song needed to be portrayed as a very theatrical, cabaret, jazzy thing, then we would go all the way with it. We would bring in orchestrations with string and horns, and if something started sounding more pop/’50s, then that’s what would happen,” he recounted.
Despite the great reviews and wider profile he’s receiving, Avidan said that he was under no illusions that he was in any danger of becoming a mainstream pop star in the US. Instead, he was hopeful that he would fit into the American indie world of free-thinking, adventurous artistry.
“I really do want an American audience to listen to my music because I’ve never been an Israeli artist or a European artist,” he said. ”I consider myself ‘an artist from Israel,’ and I don’t hide that fact. My music is very much influenced and inspired by American music. All I listen to is soul, blues, jazz and rock, and those are all genres of music that were invented and distilled in the States. It’s the best and most important test for me as an artist, to bring that to America and to have it work,” he added.
“Unfortunately, when American audiences usually reach my music and they see the name, it is automatically regarded as world music, which is weird for me... I can’t really change that. I can just try to deliver good, honest music and hope that people will judge the music on its own content and not whatever passport I hold,” he said.
Despite his attention on the US and Europe, Avidan isn’t neglecting his home base.
Gold Shadow, rather than being shipped out to CD chains around the country, is being distributed and sold directly to his fans in Israel via his website (www.asafavidanmusic.com) and at independent music shops around the country.
Avidan decided on the low-key approach as a stand against the current commercial distribution apparatus in Israel, which he says offers subpar conditions to musicians, writers and small, independent suppliers.
“It’s illogical that the artists, who create the material that chains display on their shelves, are so far down on this absurd food chain,” said Avidan in the statement. “I personally prefer to sell fewer albums and not let anyone exercise their perceived power on me. I’ll work with small record stores around the country that offer fair conditions for the artist and the consumer... and I’ll sell the record on my site that offers me a direct window to my audience. I don’t yet know the implications of this process, but in my life I’ve learned more than a few times that the journey is more important than the results.”
For Asaf Avidan, the journey seems to be only beginning and getting more interesting by the minute.
Tickets for the Hangar 11 shows are available at www.zappa-club.co.il.