Album Review: Noga Erez – KIDS

[City Slang; 2021]

We all remember handicrafts back in elementary school, right? We were handed a stack of newspapers and magazines, an empty piece of paper and a lot of sticky glue to create something delightfully warped. That’s exactly the kind of glee Noga Erez and creative co-conspirator Ori Rousso channel on their latest maximalist pop romp KIDS.

Not many songs can make me recall the exact moment I first heard them, but Noga Erez’s “Dance While You Shoot”, from her debut album, is sure as heck is one of them. The song’s meat-grinder trap beats and incisive, militant lyricism made it one of the heaviest, most politically-charged bangers of the past decade. It must have been cathartic for Erez to write and perform such a compressed, shinkuu hadouken of a track as well. Off The Radar managed to sound like a cutting-edge pop record while simultaneously being delightfully aloof towards cutting-edge pop records.

I guess that could be a symptom of living in Tel Aviv, a place sheltered from an environment of stark political unrest, where the chasm between privilege and poverty stings the consciousness at every turn. Some say there’s a disconnect in Israel that causes a lot of music to sound outdated, but Erez definitely is the antithesis of that particular theory. A stalwart on Berlin-based label City Slang, her music subverts familiar, sometimes iconic pop elements into her own high-octane vernacular, giving her music the street-smart quality of sprawling spray-painted murals and tags. It’s the nature of this zeitgeist to begin with, a time when pop culture can be molded and manipulated to express the heat of the moment in infinite ways, both profound and asinine.

On Off The Radar, Erez sounded like an artist who had been sharpening her arrows for quite some time, which explains why many of the songs felt intent on permanently branding your brain. On KIDS, Erez shakes out of that dementia, squatting down at your level like a parent or teacher making a more pivotal connection. These tracks strut with a more upbeat cadence and disposition, without straying from the same earthbound concerns that marked Erez’s previous material. To emphasise KIDS’ more conversational direction further, she pulled producer Rousso from his guy-in-the-chair role and gave him, quite literally, a voice to interact with.

It works out brilliantly on tracks like “NO News On TV” and “Story”. The former envisions a seemingly utopian world without news, singing in mock weariness about not wanting to look at your phone anymore. The video is hilarious – Erez plays the role of a rich woman who lives in a decadent mansion, completely detached from the world and left to partake in inane, pointless activities (there’s also a guy in a bear suit drumming, by the way). She references both Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” and Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” in the lyrics, over a backdrop of a buoyant production that echoes Pharrell’s “Happy”. However, the almost cut-and-paste juxtaposition of those elements makes up something slyly sinister: uprooting our own apathy towards the fate of the world by perpetuating narratives of prophecies and idols.

“Story”is similarly coy, delineating a kind of a musical pantomime of in-couple fighting. This concept is extended wonderfully in the exquisitely choreographed music video, which finds Erez and Rousso performing this frantic hybrid between abstract dance and a John Wick action scene. The blustering “End Of The Road” seems to slightly nod at David Byrne’s suave nonplussed-ness, ruminating on mortality and existence with a spring in its step, even if the treadmill in the video symbolises the helplessness of the oppressive structures our lives are ruled by.

Speaking of endless cycles: when listening to KIDS I often got this nagging feeling of familiarity, like a déjà vu that my brain can’t seem to place. “Candyman” brought me back to The Roots and Phantogram, and across the board I was reminded of Tricky, Gorillaz, Dan The Automator, Freestylers and Simian Mobile Disco. I might be reaching, but perhaps those vague beats of early Gen X nostalgia and hedonism are a subversion in and of itself: creating a collage of slam dunk musical ingredients, then reconfiguring those into something more piercing and/or radical.

I reckon Noga Erez, given her place in the world and her fiery left-wing politics, frequently found herself in a situation of having to explain to a child why people continue to suffer and get killed unjustly based on identity and background. With kids having access to phones and digital gadgets, it becomes increasingly hard to dumb it all down. It asks for a well-considered balance between gravity and weightlessness. In that respect, KIDS feels like a necessary Trojan Horse in the shape of ebullient pop performance, underpinning a palpable sense of fun and mischief with words that stick.