Tel Aviv – Lay Me Down EP

Tel Aviv
Lay Me Down EP

The expression, “That’s my name, don’t wear it out,” came to mind while listening to Tel Aviv’s self-released debut EP, Lay Me Down. Tel Aviv, Israel’s second largest city – population over 500,000 – and the nightlife, commercial, and cultural capital of the country, has been embraced by various non-Israeli artists over the years in their names and song titles. Two such examples include the New Orleans IDM/ambient electronic duo, Telefon Tel Aviv, and Duran Duran’s instrumental track, “Tel Aviv,” which had a Middle Eastern mystery about it and appeared on the Fab Five’s eponymous first album in 1981.

I’m not sure what Telefon Tel Aviv’s connection is to the world’s first modern Jewish city, founded in 1909. As for Duran Duran, “Tel Aviv” initially featured lyrics that lead singer Simon Le Bon had written while strolling Tel Aviv’s famous beach promenade during free time from his kibbutz volunteer stint in the late 70s. After listening to Lay Me Down by Tel Aviv, a trio based in Arkansas (yes, Arkansas), I’m clueless as to what inspired this Fayetteville band’s choice for a name, but the dark sounds, post-punk beats, and brooding atmospheres created by Tel Aviv would fit well in the same-name city’s most acclaimed modern-rock clubs and underground live music pubs.

Lay Me Down opens with “Sunburned LA,” featuring a spaced-out guitar intro by Justin Fernandez that recalls The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm.” Fernandez’s vocal inflections also seem inspired by Jim Morrison, but he offers higher notes as he sings slowly. Each of Tel Aviv’s three members plays keyboards and bass, and Kyle Carpenter and Rett Peek both handle drums as well. Thus, it’s hard to distinguish who is most responsible for the vintage late 60s keyboard lines at the end of “Sunburned LA.”

“About Hysteria” is louder and more aggressive than “Sunburned LA,” with Fernandez screaming his words between slicing synthesized riffs. He pleads: “The more you seem to grow on me / You seem to change / In so many ways / I hope I don’t seem crazy / ‘Cause I’m not insane / I’m just not the same.” The synchronous pounding of drums, keyboard loops, and driving bass lines give “About Hysteria” an anthemic urgency that would have been at home in Tel Aviv’s legendary post-punk club of the 80s, The Penguin.

Yet, the unquestioned masterpiece of Lay Me Down is the eight-minute epic “Vampire/DJ/Stripclub.” With echoed, distant sounds of space and low volume, high-pitched synthesized effects, “Vampire/DJ/Stripclub” is a mind-expanding soundtrack to a 3 am tour of dark, hot, sweaty, artificially muted, packed Mediterranean discotheques of the very early 80s. This instrumental track evokes an exciting, experimental era and musical aesthetics that are increasingly imitated but rarely matched.

“Ill Office” is the most conventional rock song on Lay Me Down, with a distinctly American anglophile approach to music. This is notable in Fernandez’s enunciation and his guitar playing. The rhythm section is so good that even though Carpenter and Peek recorded “Ill Office” in a studio, their instruments come off like a live, spontaneous jam at a small club. The listener’s hips beg to be shaken.

Lay Me Down ends with the speedier punk of “Securities.” Fernandez sounds anguished, and the perfect keyboard playing indicates one of two things: either Fayetteville is blessed with brilliant keyboardists or Tel Aviv sold its souls to the devil for a recording session with Ray Manzarek. Regardless, Lay Me Down is all the better for the consistently captivating playing on all instruments. This short EP, just over 20 minutes, transcends several genres and passionately plants its individual successes in the listener’s head. As a whole, Lay Me Down leaves a great taste for more and hints at a band that is equally exciting on stage as it is in the studio.