Yonatan Gat “Universalists” 2018. Joyful Noise Recordings, white vinyl. We saw Yonatan Gat a couple of nights ago at the Cactus Club in Milwaukee on the recommendation of an in-the-know musician friend and purchased this LP directly from Gat himself. Up until then, I was not familiar with him or his previous band, Monotix, an Israeli garage rock band so wild they were banned from playing every venue in Tel Aviv. So I checked out the video for the song “Cue the Machines,” the lead track on Universalists, and…holy shit!
Wild world music goes crazy, morphing garage rock punk guitar with virtuosic talent. In the video there is “a hypnotizing performance by one of the best upcoming dancers in the NY scene – Ryan Rockmore. Some of the singers are heavyweights of the same flamenco scene – Pedro Cortes, Ismael Fernandez and Jose Moreno. There is a guest appearance by Maalem Hassan Ben Jaafar, who leads the legendary New York-based Moroccan band, Innov Gnawa.“ (NPR) We didn’t get a dance performance or flamenco backup singers, but the performance was intense and mesmerizing anyway.
The rest of Universalists continues with explorations of various sounds from around the world, including indigenous chanting and marimbas (“Medicine”), old field recordings spliced and diced into modernity (“Cue the Machines” and “Projections”) and lap steel with metallophones (“Cockfight” which was recorded, in part, by Steve Albini). From Allmusic “Gat incorporates vocal samples and guest artists spanning several nations and cultures, all meshing to form an unnamed form of music in the name of universal harmony. It’s never an easy, smooth listen, however – it’s jarring and rambunctious, sometimes interrupted by glitches and tape edits. Opener "Cue the Machines” dices samples from an Alan Lomax-recorded Italian choir into a choppy wave of surf jazz that would make John Zorn jealous. “Cockfight” submerges gamelan percussion underneath furious thrashing and fluid guitar bending. Less frenetic and more sacred is “Medicine,” a joyous song of praise featuring Rhode Island-based powwow ensemble Eastern Medicine Singers. “Fading Casino” and “Sightseer” are also on the peaceful side, but the twilit melodies and echo-soaked vocals are still delivered with euphoric rushes of drums and a general feeling of enrapturement. The trio goes to emotional extremes during the most ambitious piece, “Chronology,” which begins as a dizzying splatter attack before a lonesome voice leads into a cloud of uncertainty, ending with harsh, stuttering edits taken from different live recordings of the group, forcing them to cooperate together. While challenging, the album seems to symbolize a struggle to achieve balance and harmony, and the results are frequently exciting.”