The Shondes—a three-quarters transgender, three-quarters Jewish, 100-percent-political Park Slope quartet—can’t stop kvetching about Matisyahu, everyone’s favorite “counterculture” Hasidic reggae sensation. “He stands for what I see as a more vacuous Jewish culture,” drummer-vocalist Temim Fruchter explains. Rounded out by bassist-vocalist Louisa Rachel Solomon, violinist Elijah Oberman, and guitarist Brannigan, the Shondes (a Yiddish word for “disgrace” or “outrage”) say they’re outcasts even in scenes that celebrate outcasts.
“I think we all have a lot of frustration about hipster Jewish culture,” Solomon says during a discussion heavy on politics, music, and appropriate transgender pronouns (Brannigan is “she,”Oberman is “he,” and Fruchter won’t commit to either) over coffee and scrambled tofu at an East Village vegetarian diner. “There’s an assumption in those communities that it’s pretty liberal and progressive. But in fact, especially in the hipster culture of Matisyahu, the politics underlying them are in fact funded by Jewish institutions that are really Zionist and wedded to an ideology of Jewish nationalism and Jewish heterosexuality and procreation and all this stuff we really hate.”
Their response: riot grrrl radicalism wed to classically structured songs, distortion pedals, clashing vocals, and powerful lyrics. “I Watched the Temple Fall,” inspired by the sad holiday of Tishah-b’Ab, hinges on a long, cacophonous melody wherein a calm Fruchter is interrupted by the shrill and dramatic Solomon while frantic classical violin dives in amid distorted bass, clean guitar, and steady drums. Meanwhile, the poppier “Your Monster” trades aggression for simple guitar-and-bass chords shot through multiple effects pedals. Can the Shondes shame the culture that apparently shuns them? “What really unified the four of us specifically is that we were feeling a lot of frustration with how apolitical and dispassionate indie music tends to be in New York, and how hipster scenesterism is kind of standard here,” Solomon says. “There’s not a lot of really inspirational, radical stuff happening in New York in music right now.”
The Shondes play NorthSix Friday night
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 6, 2006