Sunday, August 16, 2015

Review of Lipa's Be Positive

This is it! The album I have been waiting to hear for years  is here, above and beyond everything else that has been out there - Lipa's Be Positive. 

This album has been advertised as the first trance-style JM album but that's an overstatement. Yishai Lapidot, who was one of JM's most talented and popular composers some 10 years ago, explored this genre with Oif Simches, a group that was quite successful precisely because of their use of trance music. Lipa at times reminds me of him, in his improvisations and also in the use of Yiddish slangs here and there. 

But Be Positive's production quality sets a higher standard for JM albums - the arrangements are bold and rythmic, there are some interesting rap and Chazzonus add-ons that enhance the songs and there is a general laid back, artistic athmosphere in the making of this album. 

My main frustration with Jewish music was the lack of innovative lyrics and conformism. Lipa fixes these two problems heads on - the lyrics are fresh and he has evolved to be the main non-conformist artist in JM. And non-conformism is the most powerful asset in music, so the results are far better than Lipa's previous works. Let's get to the songs:

Ma Nishana has a child intro and you all know how I dislike screaming children, but I understand this fits in the the subject of the song - the kids recital of Ma Nishtana in Passover. I still think the intro gives the wrong feel to the song, and the second child piece at 2:55 is better and suffices for the concept. Matt does an amazing job with the harmonies, specially in 2:10 which is star quality and with great chorus towards the very end of the song. It's a good opening act and its well done. ****

Bueh attracted significant controversy after Kol Chai radio from Israel decided to censor it from Tucker's radio show, against his will. Allegedly, the editors felt the song is not appropriate for the honor of three Torah sages mentioned in the song. Like other bans, now everyone wants to hear what's so bad about this song about Gedoilin. Bueh is a song-story, illuminating Lipa's journey to three sages asking for a blessing. Song-stories are rather rare in JM, but as the lyrics in the industry improve, I hope we get many more of songs like this. Shuli Rand, the actor-singer of the blockbuster Ushpizin film, is the master of this genre and Lipa does a great job walking us through the story. "Bueh" was Rabbi Kanieskis' coded blessing to him and the whole songs revolves around this strange word. Then Lipa switches to English, speaking about the Rebbe of Tosh, a very holy, elder Rabbi who has great difficulty speaking these days. So Lipa says he got a "Safek brocho", i.e. "Possibly a blessing" since it's difficult to hear what the Rebbe says. Then he goes to Yiddish. Great song - I don't get the ban. It's just an artist conveying his encounter with the sages - no harm done. Ok it's a modern arrangement, but the message is the same. *****

If you follow this blog you know about my love for Chazzanut, and adding it as Nakdishoch's intro worked flawlessly, and surprisingly since it was not an obvious choice. It really added a layer of authenticity to this song about one of the daily prayers' most important pieces, which can only be sung by with the Chazzan. The high part, Kudoish, is simplistic but the good percussion makes it fly. At 4:00 there's a very interesting bridge with the Chazzan singing the high part and Lipa doing a Yiddish "mantra", increasingly stronger, a là Lapidot in his Oif Simchas debut song but much better. Five star song *****

Vi Lang is the first slow song, Pop style, about the how long Exile has been. The mood and tempo really fit in the theme, a little sad and blue but nevertheless great to hear. Points for being eclectic and not sticking only to the trance style. Matt's vocals are even better in this setting than in Rap, in my opinion. *****

Hiskafia contrasts with the last song - I don't see a connection between the lyrics and the tune. It's a song about the paradox of standing up for your principles but also sometimes folding down. The song felt forced and without a clear direction - just random. Matt didn't really stand out this time. **

Eigel is another song centered in one word, eigel, the golden calf. At first it sounds strange - a song about the golden calf - but eventually Lipa's message comes across. Sometimes you have to stand alone for what's right, as Levi's tribe did then. Even the wisest sages went along with the Golden Calf then, illustrating how sometimes (or most times) the majority is wrong. In fact this song is how Lipa sees himself - as the Levi of the Chassidic community where he grew up. The song itself is not the best but it's more about the message. ****

Positive's intro is again the child, and this time it was surely unnecessary and too much of the shtick. It would be better to skip this part and also the later child solo altogether. This song is clearly inspired by Lady Gaga's Poker Face; perhaps Lipa is poking fun at those who call him the Jewish Lady Gaga? In any case, it's a really innovative and different song, whose strength is the interplay between "negativity" and "nega tzaraas". It's a very creative lyric play, since negativity is the core of Lashon Hara, which is punished by Nega Tzaraas. *****

Hunger talks about starving children, metaphorically. It's about not feeding the children with appropriate education and information, a prevalent problem in Lipa's community. A very intimate and honest plea, and the music reflects his message. Lipa's vocals were great and I loved the low computerized notes. ****

Hakol Tiruzim's style is very interesting, and I specially liked Lipa's opening solo - with an added middle eastern flavor, and after that every repeat with a different feel. Lipa manages to keep changing this song, and it remains interesting even tough it's not hard rock nor a proper slow song. It's a song that requires a subtle dreamy touch and Lipa delivered big time. Tough song ****

The Beat of my Heart is another honest and upfront song about being Jewish, and the lyrics perhaps trying to be Matisyahu-ish. I applaud the effort and the quality of this song, but it's less interesting the other songs. But the ending was superb - Lipa is using more and more his low notes and it works well. ***

Ben Faiga was the song chosen for the album's video clip and is the most catchy song of the album. This song was sung by Lipa by the wedding of the composer,
Meir, and Lipa got so connected to the song that he took it under his wing. The result is a simple, catchy Breslov-themed song that is easy to sing and dance with. It's a real wedding hit, full of energy and the message is really what Lipa is all about - happiness. And the ending was again superb - just Lipa screaming "Nachman" until he is out of breath, Lipa a typical Breslov chassid. Amazing *****

95% of all JM albums would be over and finished at the count of 12, but Lipa still has a few songs under his sleeve and Pshevorske is next. I dont think it brings anything new to the table, and it less innovative than the other songs. **

Haikar Hakavana is, in the other hand, an original song. It illustrates how a singer like Lipa is asked time and time to "sing something yeshivish because the Rosh Yeshiva is here" and how people keep giving bad comments until he complies, finally singing a tasteful niggun. But the niggun eventually becomes a dance song, prompting people to ask him to turn back to Chassidic style. It's a song about the fine line between what genre is accepted and what is not; what the Rabbi's would approve and what they would find insulting; and about how people try everything not to create a problem by singing the wrong song at the wrong occasion. The song is not ground breaking but the message and the delivery is superb. ****

Next two songs are Hebrew versions of earlier songs that were sung mainly in Lipa's preferred Yiddish language. It shows how Lipa is really trying to break out from the Yiddish-speaking public and veer more towards all listeners of Jewish Music. And indeed, he has fans across the spectrum today. 

This is probably my longest review but it's long for a reason; this is an album full of topics to talk about. There's the music, the lyrics, the trance, the chazzanus, the stories and of course, the controversies. What stands out is that every song has a concept, and a beggining/middle/end, bridges and also a little shtick here and there to keep things interesting. 

Lipa has clearly evolved to become a real artist, who is not trying to fit in; he is trying to make soemthing worth listening to. His transformation took quite some time, but it seems to me that he is at his best in this album. Which makes me wonder if he will be stable and strong enough not to end like Matisyahu - another great talent that from day to night changed direction and lifestyle. Lipa changed a lot, for the better, and I surely hope he keeps in his good direction. 

Benny Friedman’s Kulanu Nelech Album Review

Benny Friedman’s latest album, Kulanu, is out on Spotify, and as a paying subscriber I enjoyed listening to this album quite a bit, to the e...