The shame, the disgrace… that’s what this Brooklyn band’s name means in Yiddish. The band isn’t shy about calling out for social justice, for calling out the shame of hypocrisy and intolerance. The Shondes are not shy about acknowledging their Jewish heritage, which has gotten them labeled as “klezmer punks.” Because they are an unapologetically activist band, they have been lumped in with riot grrl and punk rock, and that fits to a certain extent. While the original riot grrls were as sonically raw as they were outspoken, the Shondes strive for a wider, more inclusive world than the safely delineated worlds of punk and Jewish music.
The driving forces behind the Shondes are bassist/vocalist Louisa Rachel Solomon and violinist, Elijah Oberman. Solomon has a clear, resonant voice that is the central pillar of Shondes music. Oberman’s violin is the melodic foil to Solomon’s voice and the main lead instrument. “Everything Good” opens the album with an uplifting tune that may be a love song or an allegory. The next tune, “True North”, sounds a hopeful tone with a chorus of, “I believe next year in Jerusalem, we say, every day is revolutionary day.” It’s a song suggesting insoluble problems do have solutions.
For all the talk about the Shondes being a punk band, I hear a finely crafted pop-rock band. My favorite tune on Brighton is “Carrion Crow”. They lyric, “you shine like an oil spill, you shine like a carrion crow,” are a visceral put down to some unnamed neer do well. (I think of a public figure named Donald, but you can fill in any death eater you like). While the lyric does have a Bikini Kill bite, to me, Carrion Crow sounds like the best song Pat Benatar never recorded. “Wrong Kind” reminds me of early ’80s, Blondie (in a good way). In some ways, the Shondes remind me of Chumbawamba, another band who began with a punk ethos and militantly socially aware lyrics while taking their music into accessible, even commercially viable, directions.
Brighton sounds great. Producer Tony Maimone (ex-Pere Ubu and They Might Be Giants) gets a clean and powerful sound. The instruments occupy their own spaces, so that the parts are distinct while forming a cohesive whole. The little details take the songs beyond just sounding good to being something spectacular. It’s a sound that can and should be heard from a thousand car radios. I’m not sure that happens anymore, but it should.