Arts & Culture

Another Israeli Masculinity

There’s this guy you keep seeing around. He favors muscle shirts and cut-offs, even when it’s chilly out. When he walks, he has a way of putting his weight on the balls of his feet, like he’s looking for something … Read More

By / September 5, 2008

There’s this guy you keep seeing around. He favors muscle shirts and cut-offs, even when it’s chilly out. When he walks, he has a way of putting his weight on the balls of his feet, like he’s looking for something to pounce on. Sometimes, when’s passing a shop window, he makes a sidelong glance at himself and flexes his triceps until he can see them ripple. And he talks up attractive women at every opportunity. One day, though, he sits down next to you on the bus and starts up a conversation without any obvious agenda. You’re surprised at how articulate he is and notice that his whole appearance changes the longer you talk. The bravado you used to silently indict from afar now seems like a layer of clothing he wears to cope with emotional weather. So when he asks for your phone number, you give it and make sure to get his in return. A week later you go by his place for the first time. He shows you to a seat on the couch and returns to what he’d been doing. “ My grandmother taught me to knit. It’s a great way to relax. Plus, I can make my friends gifts instead of buying them something in the store.” You sit back, a little dumbfounded. The television is tuned to an old movie. He senses your question. “Fellini, before he went surreal.” Monotonix’s Body Language is that guy. At first, this hearty EP produced by the trio of guitarist Yonatan Gat, drummer Ran Shimoni and front man Ami Shalev seems like a sinewy testament to the virtues of in-your-face metal funk, an able reconstitution of the formula made wildly popular by bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers when George the First was President. Bridging the difference between “sanguine” and “sanguinary,” the rhythm’s happy-minded aggression sets you throbbing. If you go through life lamenting the lack of hardness in your rock, this record will redress the dysfunction with brutal efficiency. What gives Body Language real staying power, though, is that it stays firm without becoming simplistic. The
longer you listen, the more its taut climaxes seem like a cover story diverting attention from feelings not bound to the beat. While Monotonix hits its 1970s reference points square, from Black Sabbath to Funkadelic, the overall effect is not simple nostalgia so much as longing for the sort of reconciliation that usually requires the perspective afforded by distance. They don’t sound like a band that actually existed in that decade. Body Language urges listeners to acknowledge the past rather than relive it.. This is where the fact that the band is from Tel Aviv rather than New York or London looms largest. In some ways, Israelis relate to that decade just like their American and European counterparts. The promise of the 1960s gave way to disillusionment in Israel, too. From the horror of Munich to the Yom Kippur War, to the widening ideological divide between liberal and conservative Israelis confirmed by the Likud party’s rise to power, the 1970s were not an era that inspired much optimism. And the rock music of that period that served as its soundtrack, most of it imported from the United States and the United Kingdom, was imbued with an aura of resignation, expressing a desire for rebellion without devotion to a cause. Its hardness, in other words, tended towards cynicism. That’s why the moments when Body Language temporarily foregoes the masculinist party line are so significant. The title track is a perfect example. After starting with a riff straight out of Guitar Hero and vocalist Shalev sing-speaking his lines like a man whose face is frozen in a sneer, the song veers into a chorus that turns that cocksure pose inside out. Recontextualized against a mournful figure that sounds like something from a Euro-Pop number of the 1980s, the very antithesis of classic rock swagger, Shalev’s voice metamorphoses into an instrument of introspective regret. To be sure, that transformation is balanced by the irony that he never relinquishes. But the music prevents his words from coming off as insincere.

Much has been made of how widely Body Language diverges from Monotonix’s live shows, already legendary for breaking down every barrier between audience and performer even though they are a relatively new act from a place typically regarded as a rock music backwater. While it’s true that the record sounds a lot more polished and “rockist” than their anarchic concerts, however, it produces similar effects. In a live setting, the band encourages listeners to dispense with convention and the distance that helps to maintain it. And that’s what they do on Body Language as well, the difference being that breaking their audience free of mental chains in that context requires a different approach. Either way, Monotonix lure you into their work, inspiring trepidation, only to invite you to sit down on the sofa and watch them knit for a while. In a culture where men have long been trained to root all traces of softness out of their personality, that’s a message with more ideological import than the shouting of political slogans.

 

Check out a recent show by the band on WFMU.