Album Review: Tamar Aphek – All Bets Are Off

[Kill Rock Stars; 2021]

With her full-length solo debut, All Bets Are Off, Israeli singer-songwriter-guitarist Tamar Aphek integrates elements of dreampop, shoegaze, and indie blues, her tracks characterized by sultry vocals, languorous textures, roadhouse rhythms, and riff-y guitar licks. Aphek also displays her distinct soloing skills throughout the project without lapsing into untrendy self-indulgence.

The album opens with “Russian Winter”, propelled by Uri Kutner’s fuzzy bass and Yuval Garin’s cacophonous drums, a boisterous mix that contrasts effectively with Aphek’s moody vocal. The track shows Aphek and company at their most raucous, various passages reminiscent of a garage-y Primus or a lo-fi Red Hot Chili Peppers circa Blood Sugar Sex Magik. With the second track, “Show Me Your Pretty Side”, guitar and bass veer in a more low-key direction, Aphek’s vocals intriguingly high in the mix. Throughout the track, Aphek – like Thee Oh Sees’ John Dwyer – offers guitar parts that are at once rhythmic, atmospheric, and melodic, embracing a ‘serve the song’ approach all but mandated since the early 90s reign of Nirvana.

“All I know is that life is going on / all I know is my heart is lost and gone / all I know is that you are not with me / and all I know is that I’m not really me,” Aphek sings on “All I Know”, late-night napkin lyrics that wouldn’t be out of place on a Kurt Vile track. Aphek’s tremulous guitar hints at 60s jangle pop, juxtaposed with a wistful vocal à la Beach House’s Victoria Legrand or a stoned Sharon Van Etten. “Drive” is perhaps the project’s highpoint, Aphek and band navigating reverb-y textures that remind one of early Atlas Sound and recent Warpaint, psychedelic jam elements that conjure Liz Cooper & the Stampede, and a druggy blues vibe exemplified by The Dead Weather.

“…’til there’s nowhere to run / ’til there’s nowhere to point your gun,” Aphek moans on “Crossbow”, her spacious vocal bobbing atop a welter of bass and drums compressed to sound as if they’re spewing from a transistor radio. Midway through “Beautiful Confusion”, the band doubles down on their winning blend of noise and sexy textures, bringing to mind live improvisations by Sonic Youth. Garin’s drums and Kutner’s bass on “Nothing Can Surprise Me” are notable, jazzy accents and peripatetic lines complementing Aphek’s uber-rock orientation. The album closes with a relatively stripped-down version of “As Time Goes By”, written in 1931 by Herman Hupfeld and famously performed by Dooley Wilson in 1942’s Casablanca.

With All Bets Are Off, Tamar Aphek has crafted an impressively eclectic project, forging elegant balances between minimalism and maximalism and coalescing her affinities for a variety of musical styles. While Aphek’s melodies may prove elusive to a casual audience seeking the next mega-earworm, passive and engaged listeners alike will be converted by the album’s textures, instrumental dynamics, and sensual vocals. In any case, All Bets Are Off is chock-full of enticing tensions, rewarding catharses, and aesthetic sublimities, Aphek asserting an undeniable and incendiary presence.