Noise at its finest
Yonatan Gat, a guitarist most acclaimed for his improvisational skills, has released his latest album Universalists. Starting out in the Tel Aviv garage rock band Monotonix, their animalistic live shows may have gotten them banned from most Israeli venues, but this has only propelled Gat and Monotonix to tour the United States and Europe instead. By 2014, Gat began releasing music under his own name. Most active in 2014 and 2015, he has previously released EPs like Iberian Passage and Physical Copy, as well as his LP Director. In 2018, Gat finally returns with Universalists to continue his journey along musical frontiers.
Universalists descends from up above down to earth with its first track, “Cue the Machines.” A heavenly choir harmonizes both deep and high tones until it is interrupted by a glitch that distorts their vocals into something far from classical but still quite fitting. As soon as the rampant drums and the in-your-face sax come in, the track takes a playful turn. The track is equal parts tense and carefree, exemplified by the contrast between the grittiness of the glitches and the mellow, beachy guitars. Even as the sounds quiet down, the drums never relent; as sound distortion and other textures are added, “Cue the Machines” becomes incredibly layered and dense. Everything is laid atop one another chaotically, but somehow the space that Gat creates in “Cue the Machines” is continuously accommodating to yet another texture. With such an adrenaline-filled start, Universalists sets the tone for a wild ride.
The blissful guitar strings that “Fading Casinos” opens with are far from the chaos of “Cue the Machines.” These guitars eventually joined by rumbling drums and a melody saccharine enough to trigger memories of first loves and adolescence. Though its name suggests of adult themes, the lazy vocals and twinkling guitar solos are so purely and completely happy that “Fading Casinos” seems like Gat’s own ode to joy itself. It’s a wonderful example of how the grittiness of distortion and modulation, most notable during the guitar solo, need not be only to create a dark atmosphere – it can also give depth to a world of brightness and euphoria.
Universalists takes its listeners around the depths of the world documented through its tracklist, and by the time it reaches “Medicine,” it is clear that Gat has an ear inventive enough to mix the soundbites of cultures that are seemingly disparate. The chants of the Algonquin drum group, the Eastern Medicine Singers, and the steady beats of their drums are joined by string-by-string plucks on Gat’s guitar. The contrast between the sharpness of Gat’s electric guitar and the echoes of the Eastern Medicine Singer’s chants, laughter and drumbeats is incredibly magical – they dance around each other with an unspoken understanding possible only because of their unique understandings and perspectives on music. It is a song that could go on for dozens of minutes with no complaints because of how intoxicating its simplicity and profundity are.
Throughout all of Universalists, listeners get to hear Gat’s prowess on the guitar. Each melody he creates sounds so individual to that moment that it is nearly impossible to tell if he spent days and weeks constructing them until perfection or if it came on a whim during the moment. Songs like “Chronology” are a breathtaking example of the latter. Gat’s psychedelic guitar solo is shrouded by static and intense, head-banging drums courtesy of Gal Lazer. Together with Sergio Sayeg, they build an intense wall of electronica and percussion that is the epitome of musical noisiness. They overstimulate their listener’s senses with such determination and so relentlessly that when it all dissipates away to make room for an acapella from a gentle female singer. She sings in a foreign tongue that fades into the background as an ominous piano and a soft-handed electric guitar take over. Its soft melody is accompanied by samples of slightly sour tones that color it into a creepy theme much like those of children’s horror stories. Gat takes a turn back into the abrasive as he replaces everything that was feather-light and subtle with extreme metallic crashes that are chopped and screwed into oblivion until the song’s final sounds.
By the time Universalists reaches “The Imaginary,” everything sounds sunny and whimsical once more. It is a testament to how diverse Gat created Universalists to be, encompassing as many cultures, emotions and state of minds as possible within a quick 33 minutes. He dips his toes into world music without ever straying from his punk garage rock roots, with the utmost ease on top of it. Gat fuses genres and styles and techniques not just because he can, but because he had the ability to envision the unimaginably compatible combinations in the first place.