On February 3rd, Israeli singer-songwriter Asaf Avidan released his latest album, entitled Gold Shadow. Although it is his first official American release, Avidan already has quite an impressive discography. As his fifth album, Shadow is a fantastic opus. It is an almost perfect mix of all the directions Avidan has explored since the beginning of his career, making this his most mature and accomplished work.
Avidan reached his first audiences in 2008, when he and his backing band The Mojos released a powerful and rough 16-song debut album called The Reckoning. Asaf Avidan and The Mojos were kicking in the front door, bringing a sound that managed to mix a sort of natural roughness with heartfelt melodies and lyrics. Most notably, The Reckoning featured some of the most gripping acoustic ballads that I have ever heard (one of them, commonly known as “One Day,” was brutally and dreadfully remixed by German DJ Wankelmut).
Avidan went on to make two more albums with The Mojos: Poor Boy/Lucky Man (2009) and Through the Gale (2010). After breaking up with his band, he went on to make his first solo album, Different Pulses (2012). Different Pulses is an important record to consider, as it marked a new direction in Avidan’s music. It is, in my opinion, his weakest effort to date, but it made great use of electronic sounds and atmospheres that gave his music a new “freshness.”
Gold Shadow wonderfully combines retro-toned songs (“Over My Head,” “These Words You Want to Hear”) with both electronic sounds (“The Jail That Sets You Free”) and purely acoustic ballads (“Gold Shadow,” “The Labyrinth Song,” and “Fair Haired Traveler”), all of which carry the same seal: Asaf Avidan’s voice. It is extremely high-pitched, almost feminine (like Janis Joplin), very raw, and yet superbly delicate. Avidan’s voice is one of an open wound: it evokes a sort of melancholy that instantly grips the listener. When he sings in concert, there isn’t one sound coming from the audience during his songs. Everyone stays silent, as if his voice has found a direct way into our souls, and we listen as if it could make each of us reach a state of sublime melancholy. The metaphor is, of course, exaggerated, but one will feel strangely meditative while listening to the album.
Avidan’s lyrics also give this new album a mysterious, meditative tone. The songs are always about his feelings and emotions, themes which in themselves aren’t very innovative, though he always finds an extremely elegant and poetic way to formulate them. Almost every line provides a peek into the artist’s mind. One of Avidan’s trademarks is the use of highly symbolical metaphors and allegories: “Can it be that all these heroes have a path, but not a plan”; “There’s a man on the shore / A rope in his hand / It’s tied to the boat and he’s pulling as hard as he can / Not to bring her to him / But to pull the whole shore / And the whole world with it / To her open door.” In these songs (“Gold Shadow,” “The Labyrinth Song,” “Ode to My Thalamus”) one could find the influence of Leonard Cohen, even Bob Dylan, as many critics have noted. I would add the influence of painters like Doré and Klimt. Gustave Doré painted wonderful symbolic paintings from biblical inspirations, while Gustav Klimt heavily used golden surfaces—both of these aesthetics can be found in Avidan’s music. His mythological and biblical references, as well as his sense for overblown allegories always make me think of Doré: Avidan’s words sublimate everything, as do Doré’s and Klimt’s paintings. The title of the album also evokes this idea that even darkness can be sublime.
Avidan’s music almost reaches towards the divine. Its mystery, simplicity and purity transport us into another world. His album is strangely cathartic—after the last notes of “Fair Haired Traveler” have vanished, it takes a few moments for the outside world to win its way back to us.