Having been in a few bands in her native Israel All Bets Are Off is Tamar Aphek’s debut solo album and, for a self-confessed late comer to rock, this is pretty damn good. Aphek’s influences are the likes of Sonic Youth, Fugazi and Blonde Redhead and this album has some of their sharp edges and dark corners. There’s a pervading atmosphere of cold war Berlin in the make-up of this album with higher-than-average amounts of reverb coating this album like a slick wet street and there are also long shadows, the flash of a flick knife and a hint of Nico intonation in Aphek’s singing style.
For someone who has sung in a prestigious children’s choir, had years of piano lessons and a musical conservatory education turning to guitar might seem like pointing North before heading South but Aphek says: “I remember when I bought my first really cheap, small amplifier, and my first shitty guitar, I will never feel so happy about a guitar and amplifier again. Even if I play the most expensive Fender, nothing will compare to that excitement. “and she also has a bold aim of bring a more improvisational element to her music: “A lot of the improvisational freedom we hear in jazz records is missing for me in more current rock bands … I think that’s why we listened to a lot of bebop albums, and a lot of weird instrumental stuff: to open spiritual and artistic freedom and not be too calculated.”
That sense of freedom is one of the great joys of this album so, at points when you think you are going to hear an indie rock-by-numbers track, Aphek rips up the blueprint and throws it in your face to allow the guitar, bass, and drums to crash around ecstatically with the randomness of a pinball machine. Take the glitch start to the opening track ‘Russian Winter’ with a drag racing feel in its midpoint cacophony, or the close-to-the-cliff-edge sense of ‘Drive’. There are also the dive-bar tracks like ‘Show Me Your Pretty Side’, ‘All I Know’ and ‘Beautiful Conclusion’ which would play well in David Lynch’s Bang Bang Bar. But the standout track for me was ‘Crossbow’ which has a shake, rattle and rollercoaster propulsion that means it could easily be dubbed over the main car chase in Bullit.
The guitar and bass have moments where they growl angrily together before splitting off in different directions with the guitar twanging like a Link Ray hit, the bass flying deftly like an Ornette Coleman landslide and the drums splashing and clattering like a jazz player trying out polyrhythms on a Breeders album. However, the cover is a little at odds with the mood: why is Aphek on a big silver phone to the flat cap man at bar behind her? Why is the bar open plan and situated in a John Ford Western backdrop? Where’s the stuck-on horse going? These are questions we may never know the answer to, but I do know if you like the darker side of rock and indie then this is for you. All Bets Are Off is as loose a school kid’s tie and has all the bounce of a drunken gymnast but in mixing drama and dissonance with indie and jazz Tamar Aphek with Uri Kutner (Bass) and Yuval Garin (Drums) have made a compelling album that I hope gets a wide audience.
Review by Paul F Cook