artist: Samy Birnbach & Benjamin Lew
title: When God was Famous
label: Crammed Discs
personnel: Samy Birnbach (vocals), Benjamin Lew (electronics), Peter Principle (guitars), Michel Berckmans (oboe, basoon), Aurelia Boven (cello), Anneli Drecker (backing vocals)
tracklisting: pourquoi que je vis, kommt, the wheel, an upbraiding, men with coats thrashing, response, what is to be given, ravenna (1), hotels, mandorla, plis, in the green morning, now, once more
an album billed as '12 poems selected and set to music' isn't likely to inspire confindence in those that like their music to thump them in the ear. but, when you consider that this overlooked gem sees Samy Birnbach - leader of Israel's greatest ever alternative band, the awesome Minimal Compact - team up with ambient ace Benjamin Lew, we should all sit up and take notice.
Birnbach's thick, heavily accented and multi-tracked voice adds enormous warmth and atmosphere to the album, which includes French and German pieces. Lew's accompaniment is equally varied and interesting, using plenty of persussive textures and loops (synthesized marimbas, woodblocks, chimes etc.) to keep the album moving at a moderately quicker pace than one might imagine. the use of 'organic' sounds also helps to give the album a timeless feel. standouts include the haunting 'What is to be Given' and similarly brave 'Response', both of which successfully employ subtle vocal melodies to keep the listener engaged (the rule rather than the exception).
with guest appearances from Tuxedomoon's Peter Principle and Bel Canto's Anneli Drecker to boot, 'When God was Famous' remains a bonofide piece of buried treasure.
erik - www.cultwithnoname.com