There’s something about starting a review of a new Rockfour album by making a point of referencing their country of origin (Israel) that feels, well, a little too obvious.
I mean, I’m doing it, anyway. But I do feel kind of guilty about it, if that’s any consolation.
And, besides, to my way of thinking, it’s an understandable reference to make. Personally, I find it legitimately fascinating that they’re an Israeli band with music tastes steeped in ‘60s psychedelia from the US and UK. Maybe it’s just the naïve American in me, but it seems like an odd combination, which in turns piques my interest.
Just for the record, though, there have been other rock bands from Israel, though most of the others seem to have been progressive rock in nature, taking their cues from the likes of Gentle Giant, Van Der Graff Generator, King Crimson, and early Genesis. (Take a bow, Zingale, Lord Flimnap, and the Ashqelon Quilt.)
The thing is, though, if you didn’t know the Rockfour were from Israel, you couldn’t tell it from listening to the album; the group sings in English. Or, at least, they do now. (They recorded three albums in Hebrew during the ‘90s.)
Rockfour are, to offer a comparison that readers who shop at Not Lame Records will undoubtedly appreciate, like the Posies driving into the Paisley Underground while grooving to the Byrds on the car radio. They’ve played at International Pop Overthrow (no surprise there), but also at South By Southwest and the CMJ conference—and, perhaps more importantly to their US career, they opened for the Dave Matthews Band. Surely that sold them a few copies of their records.
Nationwide, the band’s fourth English album (there’s also a collection called For Fans Only), finds the band continuing in strong form, with Rickenbacker guitar mixing it up alongside fuzz bass (it’s no coincidence that one song is called “Fuzzy White”) and harmonies verging on the immaculate (particularly on “I Can Read You Now”, where the band channels the Beatles’ “Because”). Producer Jim Diamond (the White Stripes, Electric Six) goes for a less crisp, more raw sound for the album, and the result works well, as one might expect it would for a band that adores its garage rock.
The songs, while still mostly decidedly pop, don’t necessarily hit you over the head with fun and sun; there’s an inherent darkness in “To the End”, for instance, that’s reminiscent of “Eight Miles High” without actually being derivative of it. The aforementioned similarity to the Posies can be heard particularly on “You Said”, which sounds like the missing link between Failure and Frosting on the Beater.
“Moving Fast” might be the album’s single best track, and, truth be told, would serve as a better closer than the delicately plucked “Much More to Offer,” which, despite its Brian Wilson-inspired harmonies, finds the proceedings ending with something closer to a whimper than a bang. It’s also a bit ironic, given that, indeed, Nationwide has so much more to offer.
Post-script: Regarding the popularity of prog rock in Israel, I recently traded e-mails with Issar Tennenbaum, drummer for Rockfour on the topic. “No,” he admitted, “I guess we too did not escape the ‘curse’ of progressive rock. It is still very popular here in Israel. As we’re all basically a ‘70s generation, we could not help growing up on everything from heavy metal to prog rock to Beatles, even though most of these styles we discovered only in the ‘80s as a result of the frustration we suffered as beginner musicians with all the synthesized music going on at the time. Actually, if you listen to our first 2 albums in English—Supermarket and One Fantastic Day—you will hear many more of the above influences and how Nationwide came to sound the way it did as a result (and a continuation) of those two albums.”