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Elders Of Zion



The name is the first indication that this loose agglomeration of left-coast, left-wing musical progressives might have some sort of axe to grind: the Elders of Zion were a famous but entirely fictitious secret Jewish cabal alleged to have conspired to take over the world during the late 19th century, as evidenced by the document they supposedly authored, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a classic piece of racist literature used throughout the 20th century as a justification for anti-Semitism, most notably by Adolf Hitler. So, yeah, politics is going to be part of the picture with these guys. These guys, by the way, these very real Elders of Zion, are comprised of ringleader and arranger/editor/processor Joel Schalit (formerly of the Christal Methodists, currently the editor of Punk Planet magazine), drummer Luis Illades (Pansy Division), guitarist/drummer Vance Galloway (house engineer at the experimental electronic label Asphodel), and keyboardist Phyllis Stein (The Fucking Champs' Tim Green also provides some additional percussion).

The political component of the Elders of Zion's music comes in the form of spoken word snippets, around which the band builds challenging instrumental collages, adopting a sort of Negativland-style approach to incendiary music-making. Many of said snippets on the group's first album, Dawn Refuses to Rise, were, tellingly, culled from the anti-globalization protests of recent years in Seattle, DC, and Philadelphia, but there are other more far-out but no less pointed sound sources here, including an Australian libertarian's Marxist rant, Israeli kids squabbling over toys, and French Maoists prattling about Godard. Around these samples and field recordings, the members of the Elders crew utilize their diverse talents to construct dark, sinister, and very complex grooves that will have you stuttering to come up with names of groups this music reminds you of -- maybe Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Trans Am, The Third Eye Foundation, K.K. Null, Deerhoof -- but this music is so original no comparison really comes close. The sheer number of niche genres invoked in Elders of Zion reviews thus far -- neo-prog, dark ambient, drum and bass, dub, illbient, experimental techno, drone rock, all accurate, to a point -- is indicative of the group's dazzling eclecticism and originality. There are live instruments in this heady stew -- Illades' fierce drums are a near constant, Galloway's guitar squalls are distorted almost beyond recognition -- but these simply slide in alongside the other tools in Schalit's vast post-production arsenal. Through the magic of the Macintosh, Schalit cuts and pastes these live sounds with his library of field recordings, music samples from around the globe (a bit of the reggae chant here, the Indian raga there), and an endless array of effects (a heavy emphasis on deep, spacey reverb engendering some of the dub comments). For all their music's obvious artifice, Elders of Zion have created something surprisingly organic, anthemic, almost primal, which, despite the heaviness of its politics, is a lot of fun to listen to.

Dawn Refuses To Rise appeared at the beginning of 2002 on Brad Stark's fantastic Incidental Music. The group released it in conjunction with Schalit's first book, Jerusalem Calling: A Homeless Conscience in a Post-Everything World, published simultaneously by Akashic Books, run by Johnny Temple (Girls Against Boys, New Wet Kojak). The book explores many of the same themes abstracted in the music of Elders of Zion (capitalist orthodoxy, religious fundamentalism, Zionism, punk). You may purchase the book and CD together, at a reduced price, on the Incidental website.