All posts by Sam Miller

Yidcore Year-Round (Michael Croland)

Guest Post by Michael Croland, author of Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk

Yidcore, the quintessential Jewish punk band, broke up eight years ago, but their music continues to have relevance year-round. Here are Yidcore songs for Jewish holidays and other occasions throughout the year. From covers of liturgical classics to zany originals, Yidcore shows why punk rock is the perfect approach to Jewish music.

New Year’s: “Happy New Year Atom”

Atom (of Atom and His Package) had a fun tradition with Yidcore singer Bram Presser. When it was still December 31 in Atom’s U.S. but already January 1 in Presser’s Australia, Atom asked “what it’s like next year” because Presser was “living in the future.” Presser manages to sneak a “shana tovah” into a song about the secular New Year.

Shabbat Shira: “Sabbath Prayer”

Shabbat occurs weekly, but there’s no better time to appreciate Shabbat music than Shabbat Shira. With their magnum opus, Fiddlin on Ya Roof, Yidcore covered the full Fiddler on the Roof score. In “Sabbath Prayer,” Yidcore rocks out in a way Tevye never could. The orgasmic “Amen!” at the end is a force to be reckoned with.

Purim: “Shalosh Pinot”

This is a fun song for kids to sing about Haman’s three-corner hat. Yidcore pulls off a blistering cover in about six seconds, making it the shortest song in their oeuvre. Why beat around the bush? No matter how many times I play Yidcore’s version for my wife, she still doesn’t recognize it as “Shalosh Pinot.” Click here.

Passover: “Dayenu”

Dayenu” is arguably the most appreciated melody in the Passover seder. Presser recalled, “The running gag for a long while was that Yidcore was started with the express primary purpose of speeding up the interminably long and boring seder. Anything beyond that was just a bonus.” At least five punk bands have covered “Dayenu.”

Yom HaAtzma’ut: “Hatikvah”

Yidcore ended their self-titled debut album with a speedy version of the Israeli national anthem. They outdid themselves with an even shorter version on Scrambles. Click here.

Yom Yerushalayim: “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav”

Written after Israel won the Six-Day War in 1967, this beloved folk song by Naomi Shemer—which translates to “Jerusalem of Gold”—was like a second Israeli national anthem. When Yidcore played punk rock covers at a university revue in 2000, they threw in “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” as a token Hebrew song—and it kick-started the band. Shemer said she was appalled by Yidcore’s approach on Israeli TV shortly before she passed away. Click here.

Tu B’Av: “You! Toilet Wall! Me! Marriage!”

On this Jewish Valentine’s Day, single women would wear white and dance in the fields in an effort to be paired up with men. In this contemporary love story, the narrator sings about discovering a woman’s number in a bathroom stall. “To find true love this could be my last chance,” declare the romantic lyrics.

Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur: “Avinu Malkeinu”

This High Holidays prayer asks G-d for mercy and has also been covered by Barbra Streisand and Phish. Yidcore’s take starts off slow before embracing punk rock frenzy, especially when they rock out in the coda. Click here.

Chanukah: “Punk Rock Chanukah Song”

In this spinoff of Adam Sandler’s “The Chanukah Song,” Yidcore celebrates the many Jews in punk rock that came before them, including members of the Ramones, Television, the Dictators, The Clash, NOFX, and Bad Religion. “When you feel like the only punk without a Christmas tree, here’s a list of people who are Jewish, just like you and me,” sings Presser.

Christmas: “Lonely Jew on Christmas”

The slow version sung by Kyle Broflovski on South Park is funny, but by playing loud and fast, Yidcore improved on the original. “I’m a Jew, a lonely Jew/ I’d be happy, but I’m Hebrew,” bemoans Presser. Yidcore’s cover was just named one of the “best Aussie Christmas songs of all time.”

Michael Croland is the author of Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk, which was published by Praeger (an imprint of ABC-CLIO). Check out the book to learn more about Yidcore and other Jewish punk artists!

Header photo: Bram Presser lights a menorah onstage in San Francisco. (Michael Croland)

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Daniel Kahn & The Painted Bird: The Butcher’s Share (Album Review by Michael Croland)

Guest Post by Michael Croland, author of Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk

Daniel Kahn & The Painted Bird herald their new album as “klezmer-punk anthems for the revolution or the apocalypse,” with songs that “speak to the political moment as much as they address eternal struggles of class and liberation.” Kahn has often played with the past and the present, letting radicals and revolutionaries from yesteryear have a say through a contemporary lens. In the era of Trump, the alt-right, and Brexit, his approach isn’t a stretch. It’s timely.

Following a short intro song, The Butcher’s Share kicks off with its boisterous title track. The lyrics discuss an ignorance-is-bliss approach to “the power people wield” and human rights, stressing the importance of “our needs” over “evil deeds.” In the last few lines, once the point has been become clear, Kahn snarls and shouts to vehemently deliver his message: People pay someone else to do the dirty work and look the other way.

The group made a video for the catchy “Freedom Is a Verb,” which posits that freedom is “something you must constantly” work for in order to have it. Upon introducing the song at a show in New York on the last night of Passover, Kahn talked about how the theme of freedom was timely. But the song doesn’t narrowly define freedom as liberation from a ruler’s enslavement. As in other songs on the album, the socialist Kahn has biting social commentary about the masses who have gotten the short end of the stick, which is all too timely year-round nowadays. Kahn sings: 

But lower pay and higher rent’s another kind of violence / The violence of silence and of greed / The violence of feeling your irrelevance revealing / Every way in which you never will be freed“.

“99%—Nayn-Un-Nayntsik” pits the 99% vs. the 1%. It’s an anthem in Yiddish and English for the era of Occupy Wall Street, Bernie Sanders, and beyond. Kahn sings, “Ninety-nine is a community, one percent is a f–k-you-nity.”

“Arbeter Froyen” is a prettier folk song about hard-working women. The electric guitar solo is a rockin’ interlude, but it’s not intense or reminiscent of punk.

Of course, this so-called “klezmer-punk” isn’t punk rock. Kahn’s longer label, “Radical Yiddish Punkfolk Cabaret,” is more fitting. Kahn has never been restricted by a singular vision in his art or his message. The Butcher’s Share features four songs that were written for a 2016 staging of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Enemies, A Love Story and two Abraham-themed “bonus tracks.” There’s a song with lyrics by the late Adrienne Cooper and music by Frank London (The Klezmatics and Hasidic New Wave). The album includes guest vocalists Michael Alpert (Brave Old World), Sarah Gordon (Yiddish Princess), Sasha Lurje (Goyfriend), Lorin Sklamberg (The Klezmatics), and Psoy Korolenko (The Brothers Nazaroff). Those contributors give a feel for a wide range of what contemporary klezmer has to offer. The same could be said for the album. As timely as the social commentary songs are, there’s more to The Butcher’s Share.

Michael Croland is the author of Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk, which was published last year by Praeger (an imprint of ABC-CLIO). Check out the book to learn more about Daniel Kahn & The Painted Bird and other Jewish punk artists!

Chant Records debuts with Zion80, Darshan, and more

The newly-founded label Chant Records debuted earlier this month with a plethora of ambitious new albums. (All can be purchased through the label’s website as well as their Bandcamp page.

Raza is the sophomore effort from alt-rap duo Darshan, here comprised of rapper Eprhyme (Eden Pearlstein) and Pharaoh’s Daughter frontwoman Basya Schechter. The album reimagines the Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat prayers and draws heavily from Eastern musical traditions.

Warriors is the third release from Afro-jazz ensemble Zion80, led by guitarist and Tzadik Records alumni Jon Madof.

What We Found Along The Way is the debut full-length from Sandcatchers, an Americana-meets-Arabic ensemble fronted by oudist Yoshie Fruchter, another Tzadik veteran who is also in Zion80.

MukashiBanashi (Japanese for “tales of long ago”, a term for Japanese folk tales) is the debut from avant-rock outfit The Fugu Plan. Named for an effort to bring Jewish refugees to Japan during World War II, the band, fronted by Japan-born vocalist Yuka and Israeli bassist Shanir Blumenkranz, draws from Japanese folk traditions as well as surf, psychedelic, Ennio Morricone, and noise rock. The album is being re-released after originally coming out in February of 2016.

The label has also released Strength In Numbers, a 101-track showcase compilation featuring the above artists as well as a massive array of others. It can be downloaded and streamed for free from the label’s website.