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The Wailing Wall | The Low Hanging Fruit

Album Review by John Powell

Wailing Wall Low Hanging Fruit ~ Angelica-Music

I first saw The Wailing Wall in 2006 at their birthplace and our common college, Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, New York. I had heard of the performance because my friend Taylor Pavlik was at the time playing trumpet for the group. Walking in to the venue I found the stage packed with musicians, men and women of all shapes and sizes, spread out and playing everything from melodica to viola to hand claps. In front stood Jesse Rifkin: thick eyebrows, shaggy brown hair, and a disturbing stare. He was, in his zone, scary. His reputation preceded him, being one of the best and most performing musicians on campus. The Wailing Wall was a collection of his friends, a rock orchestra, and while the songs were written and composed by him, it was the layers that created the intense environment. The crowd bobbed their heads, moved their shoulders, finding themselves unable to stand still.

But The Wailing Wall isn’t dance music. Rifkin’s lyrics are penetrating. “Lover, I see/ that your eyes buzz like bees/ your honeycomb skeleton frame/ No fruit trees will grow where your fragile feet go,” he sings on “Sister I”, off of 2008’s Hospital Blossoms LP. You have to listen for these poetic lyrics, however; his voice is always subdued, faint, and usually panned in both speakers, strung in amid frolicking drums of complex patterns, piano plunks, heavy acoustic guitar, and varied other instruments that build a room for you to sit in during the song’s duration.

Also, each line is so incredibly thought out in assonance, rhyme, accents, and poetic symbolism, metaphor, and syntax that you can often be looking at the forest and not seeing the trees.

Meeting Rifkin later, I found out he’s genuine, kind, and thoughtful, caring and giving. But he has a dark side that he funnels through his music. He will smile at you and you’ll have to smile back, but during a performance he’ll grimace and the world will be shadowed. His collective has gone through heavy rotations since that first performance, but 2010’s The Low Hanging Fruit is still an effort on his friends’ part; the liner notes are simply a list of guests that have come forth to aid Rifkin in his epic musical journey. This time, however, The Wailing Wall is backed by JDub Records, both in production and publicity, and Rifkin has moved to Brooklyn, NY, where the music scene has both influenced him and is also being driven by him.

The Low Hanging Fruit is a powerhouse of a record. On its opener, “Speak Not its Name”, Rifkin exchanges his whiny growl (that is contagious and infectious) for chanting, “And the hands fold to fists so as not to feel it”, and suddenly you know what you’re in for; The Wailing Wall exists in a darkened altered reality, a beating heart filled with tar.

The Low Hanging Fruit’s first half is heavy on orchestration, handclaps, and even a sitar. Risks are taken later on, beginning with “Dandelion”, which could be an Indie hit. After a hooking guitar lick that repeats as a bridge throughout the song, Rifkin sings, “I am yours, love/ and you are mine/ But our fortune’s blown like a dandelion”.

Like most bands we’d like to label “Indie”, The Wailing Wall is in actuality indefinable. Are they rock, country, soul, weird, noise, chaos, or beauty? The Low Hanging Fruit never settles on a sound, which is its best feature.

The album title and many of the lyrics clearly speak of the creation story of Adam and Eve. Later on in “Dandelion” there are the most incredible lyrics, “Like figurines on a wedding cakeand like Adam and Eve when they came awake/ They could’ve done better/ but they listened to snakes/ and we made similar mistakes.” And in “Lame Situation” he sings, “It’s not what we want/but our hands have to harden/ It’s the price that we pay for our crime in the garden.”

In the wake of better-known artists like Arcade Fire, The Shins, and most notably The Decemberists, who Rifkin would concede are influences, these songs are narrative, folky, and like fairytales. Unlike these other acts, however, The Wailing Wall is tongue in cheek, like when on “Song” he sings, “You sing to me like a nightingale/I sing to you like a humpback whale,” aware of its ability to produce stellar instrumentation, and for that we are blessed with a great album.

The Wailing Wall is not yet rolling in dough; is playing for its supper, touring religiously and living off of bread and water. The energy never falters. The songwriting never sounds contrived. The music never believes it’s as good as it actually is. This is a humble, creative, thought-out album and has lasting power, for rainy days, long car rides, and snowy afternoons.

Purchase The Low Hanging Fruit from JDub Records


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