Israeli artist Tamar Aphek arrives on the legendary Kill Rock Stars with an indie rock pedigree to rival some of the label’s most celebrated acts. After close to a decade playing wild guitar licks and fronting some of Tel Aviv’s most prominent rock bands, Aphek got a taste for the solo life and promptly moved to Paris to focus on her song-craft.
Stepping into her new role in style, she teamed up with fellow Israeli Yonatan Gat (ex-Monotonix) to record her first Tamar Aphek EP, Collision, released in the summer of 2014. She turned down the guitars, dipped back into the classical piano training of her youth, and started to explore the full range of her voice. Until that point she had considered herself to be more of a guitarist than a singer, though it’s hard to reconcile that fact with the confidently deadpan and sophisticated voice we encounter on All Bets Are Off. People will inevitably make comparisons with Nico but Aphek’s vocal style is less scorched and droning, though still dry enough to cut through even the knottiest of her tightly wound, jazz inflected songs.
Much of the recording for All Bets Are Off was completed some years ago with her original touring band, but Aphek has been in no hurry to release it. Instead, she has taken an intuitive yet purposeful approach to producing the album herself, re-sculpting and layering the instrumentation where necessary to best suit her stories of jealousy, injustice, anger and revenge. Take a moment to compare the Bandcamp demo of ‘Russian Winter’ (aka ‘The Second I Am Gone’, from 2013) with its stonking final form on the record to see how Aphek’s vision has paid off. Powering in on scuzzy guitars and precision drums and exiting with an out-of-nowhere farfisa final eighth, ‘Russian Winter’ sets the tone for an album that’s packed with sudden diversions and unruly intermissions.
Aphek is at her most aggressive on ‘Crossbow’, last year’s pummeling first single, boosting her villainous tale with motorik propulsion and a flashy guitar line that brings it all together. Her production skills come to the fore again on the strung-out funhouse-mirror funk of ‘Too Much Information’, turning a potential clown car of a song into a woozy mid-album set-piece of beautifully controlled chaos. Elsewhere, ‘Show Me Your Pretty Side’ is a discomfiting, sax-strewn, stalkerish track that goes heavier on the twang, recalling a more cynical Holly Golightly or early Eleni Mandell.
Aphek never wavers in her commitment to the rollercoaster approach she has adopted, though her tricks can start to wear a little thin on longer songs like ‘Beautiful Confusion’ and ‘Nothing Can Surprise Me’. For the most part, though, All Bets Are Off is a thrillingly cohesive ride that’s not afraid of ambiguities or of going to extremes. There’s a lifetime of musical experience at work here, more fully revealed with each repeated listen, confirming Tamar Aphek as one to keep a close ear on.