Emok @ Knitting Factory NYC

EmokWhat first caught my eye about the ground-level room of the Knitting Factory was the floor. At some point between the smoking ban and now, it has been replaced and it was so clean yuppies in expensive driving coats were sitting on it like fourth graders in gym class. Small room, great floor. Cool.

The band of the night was Emok, who, according to every piece of literature thus far concerning them, is a “NY band by way of Israel.” Seems to me a hell of a trip to make just to be a part of a different scene, but someone told me once that LA is dead and I’ve never seen it but I’ve been to Colorado and the smell wafting eastward augured well for what they had said.

NY by way of Israel. I’m not sure if I could come up with a better way to say that a band has interesting lyrics. Maybe “These people have seen shit that makes your nightmares look like Care Bears movies” (which, incidentally, mine do), but even that is lacking the subtlety and serious declaration of life experience their current slogan decrees.

Don’t let the fact that you’ve probably never heard them before dissuade you from being interested. A couple months ago when their record landed on my desk, I was intrigued by the artwork, knew nothing of the band, but listened to it because I liked the name and the picture on the front. As part of Generation CD-R, I often find myself appreciating good album covers, I guess because I see them so rarely.

Shove Your Head Into The Ground And Feed It To The Earth, while lacking in economy of language, is packed solid with intriguing-yet-accessible hard rock. It’s not metal, but it might be how System of a Down would have turned out if they grew up listening to Sonic Youth. There’s a tendency toward experimentation which carried over and became a big part of their live set, particularly in the creatively smooth transitions from song to song.

Not surprisingly, the sound has a definitive Middle Eastern influence. Some of the guitar progressions and rhythms can be traced back to traditional Hebrew music, which is most of what makes the System of a Down reference appropriate. Emok isn’t quite as heavy or fast, but they lack nothing when it comes to intensity of performance.

The sporadic use of electronic elements and samples gives them an added sense of originality, as well as ups the responsibility of drummer Liron. While the electronics are definitely identifiable in the music, they’re by no means the focus, and the overall impression Emok gives is one of being rock with an edge, rather than rock with a gimmick.

Itai (bass) and Ofer (guitars) split the vocal duties, the former capably handling most of the job. On songs like “Trust,” he shines and is in every sense the consummate tortured rock soul, a Kurt Cobain like drawl occasionally rearing its head. When his and Ofer’s voice come together and mesh on “Revival,” it is reminiscent of the complementary nature that Jerry Cantrell and Layne Staley once shared. If the grunge references seem out of place, they aren’t, as there are some decidedly similar characteristics shared by Emok and several of those now legendary bands.

Music is often most interesting when it can’t be easily categorized, and Emok fit the bill. There is the Seattle tendency to simultaneously work within and without of the pop song verse/chorus/verse/chorus structure and rip it apart with devastating and sincere emotional ferocity. The aforementioned Middle Eastern elements and tendency to include heavier breakdown beats in songs alienates them from the indie set (where I think they would otherwise do quite well), and yet they aren’t hardcore or punk either. But they’re all of them. It’s difficult to interpret, exciting to watch.

Their stage presence was at times a bit on the awkward side, which I attribute to cultural differences and even with that in consideration, the band never failed to engage the crowd, who, for the Wednesday before Xmas, was plentiful and responsive.

The red Knitting Factory lights suited them well and played into the manic urgency in the music, which, as it should be, was the focus of the set. While Itai’s charisma and obvious talent came through in every move of his underfed body, it was at the same time easily apparent that he was reluctant to be the focus of the band. This provided the kind of sought-after balance which can only be found in a truly ego-free musical environment. The only word I can come up with for it is “genuine.”