Having reviewed many music albums over the years, it is rare these days that I get surprised by anything I hear. However, I recently listened to a track by the young Israeli singer/songwriter, Eyal Erlich, that made me start. There was something about it that was quite different from anything I’d heard before; there was something puzzling about his voice. His song, ‘Rain‘, is a slightly shocking laying bare of the singers emotions. There is a genuine passion with his peformance with the plaintive sound of his voice, and the soft quality of his acoustic guitar accompaniment. This is what caught my attention.
So what was so unique about Eyal’s performance in this piece that caught my ear? Firstly, it was clear that his sound was the result of a mix of musical influences, some of which are a little alien to the strictly diatonic ears of the western listener; the music of Israel has developed over the past century from a combination of Jewish and non-Jewish music traditions. There are elements of Russian Folk Music, Eastern European Klezmer music, Middle Eastern music, music from the Jewish Yemenites, as well as Greek, Latin American, Ethiopian influences. These traditions contain harmonic sounds that are both homophonic and modal in feel. Could it have been the distillation of these sounds and influences that caught my ear?
After listening to ‘Rain‘ I delved further into his repertoire of songs currently available online, I ended up both surprised and disappointed; surprised to hear some genuinely more coherent and listenable tracks than ‘Rain‘, but slightly disappointed that there was no video material available.
So what do I know about Eyal? Born in, and still a resident of, Tel Aviv, Eyal has become a tireless writer and performer in Israel who takes a very personal approach to his art. He is more than happy to express his innermost feelings to us through his songs and he tours extensively thoughout Israel doing just this. His desire for people to see and hear him perform has meant hundreds of thousands of hits to his music – there are seven tracks so far – loaded on Soundcloud.
Initially I struggled a little to understand the popularity of Eyal’s voice, but if check out the sheer volume of his ‘plays’ on Soundcloud and you’ll see just how popular he has become. But the more I listened, the more I realised that he was pulling me in; there is an intimacy with his singing and a truth about his emotions that can’t be ignored, that can’t be turned off. Added to his voice, the rawness of his guitar playing adds another sophisticated earthy element to the performances. Fret noise is often an annoying accompaniment when heard in a recording, but where it appears in Eyal’s tracks, such as in ‘All in all’, it somehow sounds and feels right. It’s simply used as another percussive device. This track shows another side to Eyal – slightly more of a blues feel than any of the others, the guitar is more prominent as an acoustic device which drives the track along.
Another track that caught my attention was ‘It don’t seem right’ – another heartfelt and soulful song written by Eyal. Unlike ‘Rain‘, however, there is a clearer formality about the track that makes us feel both safe at home and somewhat expectant. The repetitive running ground base is the perfect accompaniment to Eyal’s voice, which, on this track at least, is kept well within its achievable range. Ths slightly strained falsetto of ‘Rain’ is nowhere and we’re pulled along a sense of urgency and the pulsing vocals.
Eyal clearly has a indie-folksy ‘feel’ to his songs, and his voice bristles with a pained energy, but ‘Rain‘, in particular, is sung with an intensity and passion that is a little unexpected. Common with all Eyal’s tracks, it occasionally seems as if his voice is about to breakdown with all the emotion. However, despite the apparent fragility heard in his voice, the confidence with which his guitar playing continues holds everything together.
The opening to ‘Rain‘ begins with a slightly aimless-sounding guitar introduction before Eyal begins to sing the haunting theme which becomes the principal hook of the song. If it seems that it is a little repetitive, then that is because it needs to be – the slow build and then final dying away of both the pleas and the accompaniment suggesting that the wishes he solicits were entirely in vain. But this is not meant to diminish the piece. It is truly powerful; and Eyal gives so much of himself to the sound that the listener is drawn in; something a few other performers might want to bear in mind. The vocal lines in ‘Rain‘ are flexible anough to allow Eyal the freedom to lose himself to the extent that we might think for a moment that he has overstepped the mark; but, again, this is the point. This is performance of genuine honesty, and we’re seeing a man completely immersing himself in it. It’s like listening to an actor who has got so involved in the character he or she is playing that the thoughts and experiences of that character become real; the pain is real; the love is real.
Performance is what Eyal is about – sadly, I have yet to ‘see’ him perform (either live or on video) and that, I believe, will be the key to my understanding him better. I want to see him sing his songs; I want to be in the same room when he expresses such heartfelt pains. Artists only become real when we see them in the flesh. Once I have seen him then simply listening to Eyal will be enough. I need that next piece of the puzzle.