The Arty Semite

Are You Listening Now?: Charming Hostess's ‘The Bowls Project’

By Mordechai Shinefield

  • Print
  • Share Share

There’s something special about enjoying a brilliant album alone, but there’s joy in sharing it with others. Since 2001, when Jewlia Eisenberg released “Trilectic,” I have had the former joy, but not the latter.

“Trilectic” was a brilliant concept album that set the writings of Walter Benjamin and Asja Lacis to eclectic vocal compositions that ran the gamut from Meredith Monk-inspired experimentation to doo-wop and Eskimo throat chanting. Jewlia’s band, Charming Hostess, followed up “Trilectic” in 2004 with “Sarajevo Blues,” another genre-defying piece of avant-garde composition, chock-full of hooky melodies and jaw-dropping moments of unconventional beauty.

And still the audiences didn’t come. In 2006 I watched Charming Hostess rock out a cappella in front of an audience of merely dozens at the now-defunct Tonic on the Lower East Side. When we shouted out a song request (the glorious avant-bubblegum pop “Fortress Moscow” off “Trilectic”), Jewlia seemed shocked at such a mundane gesture of fandom.

Fittingly, “The Bowls Project,“ Charming Hostess’ blistering, raucous, and exciting new album, released this week on Tzadik records, thematically retreats into the esoteric and exotic. Jewlia has taken as her muse ancient Babylonian Jewish amulets, and the songs traverse the spaces between demonology, mysticism, sex and the apocalypse.

On “Hangman Devil Man,” Jewlia sings about family breakdown, drenched in the sounds of furious folk Americana. On “Bound and Turned Aside,” she scrapes against black metal, and on “Early in the Morning,” she sings, “Some people say the devil’s dead / I saw the devil, baby, at the foot of my bed.”

The most striking moments of “The Bowls Project” are those where Jewlia is excavating subversive Jewish undercurrents, whether repressed feminine narratives or Jewish ritual mythology, or both: “Overturned is the curse of the mother and the daughter…bound and sealed is the curse in the name of YYY the Great Angel of 11 Names.” She does not merely posit a hidden Jewish tradition, but exclaims it.

In light of Jewlia’s medical struggles last year (concerned fans read as she blogged about frequent trips to the hospital), “The Bowls Project” sounds as though it isn’t just reconstituting a lost Jewish past, but Jewlia’s body itself — always a moving, explosive force that seems to scream, both for itself and for a repressed tradition, “Are you listening now?”


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Mordechai Shinefield, Jewlia Eisenberg, Charming Hostess, Asja Lacis, Music, Sarajevo Blues, The Bowls Project, Tonic, Trilectic, Tzadik Records, Walter Benjamin

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.