ISRAEL: Plonter - Rami Fortis
Updated: Apr 10
Tell your grandma to put her earplugs in, it is time for some Middle-Eastern punk rock...
It feels like whenever Israeli culture is intellectualised or spoken about, it is done in the backdrop of its tangled and complicated geopolitics. Despite being an album named exactly that (Plonter means 'tangle' in English) and it being categorised as one of the most inherently political genres, punk, the album avoids discussion of the frontlines and instead focusing on the everyday realities of life in the 70s emulating punk stars in the UK and US. This is somewhat refreshing and an insightful look into how we so often like to paint people with the same brush based on stereotypes or assumptions made on their nationality or the politics of their nation. Though by the release of this debut album, Rami Fortis already had the life experience of a man several years his senior, having served in the army during the Yom Kippur War, he presents an almost adolescent outlook on the world, addressing different frustrations he felt in his life with a certain petulance that only true punk rockers can.
“...Fortis is unafraid to upset musical convention through his punkishness...”
Though I struggled with much of this album when I first heard it, due to the fact that it was all mostly a bit too noisy for my taste, I am nonetheless able to appreciate the sheer lack of a toss that Fortis seems to give about the naysayers. It must be said that Fortis was somewhat revolutionary in Israeli society at the time. Though Israel looked outwards across the world for its musical influences, punk had never really left its mark in the nation by the time Fortis released the record in 1978. It is clearly performed in a daring mood, and he would act as a sheer contrast to the balladeers and crooners that were all the rage at the time.
Musically the album is a little more developed than one might give him credit for when hearing him just shout and scream for 90% of the record. Kicking off with what sounds like a live recording of Dvash (Honey), the hard rock melody boosted with tubthumping percussion soon develops into a song with more of a psychedelic feel, even with a wicked saxophone solo for good measure. Though there are definitely more aggressive tracks which I am not such a fan of such as Hador Hazeh (My Generation) and April Fools, that feel like they have come out of an Iggy Pop how-to guide, both lyrically and musically, these are counterbalanced with other forms of rock. For example, the banger Lamdi Oti Ha-Laila (Teach Me Tonight) is full of Rolling Stones-esque distortion and is slowed down to a more commercially enjoyable pace, Mehapes At Atzmi (Looking For Myself) is more like a rock-opera with Fortis showcasing phenomenal piano work and He Kilkela At Kulam (She Spoilt Everything), a song about a girl who is distrustful of him but actually shouldn’t be trusted herself, is full of guitar licks that aren’t unpleasant nor jarring to hear.
That said, Fortis is unafraid to upset musical convention through his punkishness, effectively imitating a premature baby screaming and wailing in the final track Incubator. What’s more, he tricks the listener into thinking they are being gifted with the sound of him singing for the first time on the album on the rather soft introduction to Ha-Mavet Eino Me Chuser Avoda (Death Is Not Absent From Work) as almost some kind of tuppence for their patience, before attacking the audience with heavy vocals as he sings about the inescapable pain of death as he proceeds to scream the word ‘death’ in Hebrew umpteen times. Two other songs that really caught my attention for different reasons were the enjoyable Red Me'al Masach Ha-Televiziya Sheli (Get Off My TV Screen), due to its similarity to You Shook Me All Night Long by AC/DC and the seemingly out of place Shemesh Lach Metzapim (Expecting The Sun) in which the album takes a real left-field turn featuring dogs barking, an almost Polynesian islander music rhythm using a keyboard, female backing vocals and even whips out a crowd pleasing ‘la la la’. How out of place it feels on the album gives me the sense it is performed with a knowing wink to the audience, and though I can’t pretend I love the album, his carefree nature makes me certainly warm to it more than one might expect.