Pharaoh's Daughter / Exile

The next-best-thing to Hopper in expressing exile and aloneness Pharaoh's Daughter
, 2002
Knitting Factory Records, KFW-306, 2002

Basya Schechter returns for a third recorded outing with her band, Pharoah's Dream, with a haunting lyricism and astounding music. Although I can't pinpoint any specific references (beyond, say, the use of a "distance" effect on some of the vocals and some occasional electric guitar grinding, mild electronica, or the way that the music, itself, seems more on the American edge, still heavily influenced by the Middle East, less-obviously Ashkenazic Jewish-influenced), I am reminded of Sixties psychedelic folk artists such as Tim Buckley, whose explorations of music and theme, coupled with brilliant poetry, made those works so intriguing. And, though the music seems less explictly Jewish, and Schechter's words speak of universal themes: love, relationships, one's place in the world, moving from quiet contemplation to the intense near-panic of "Run": "Run like the future has no past, run for no reason...," they do so from a young American Jewish, very Jewish perspective, with all the ambiguity that such a statement implies: "I am a fake. A hyper conscious Jewish fake, with a Catholic habit for - confession."

The album's themes seem to be finding and holding oneself, one's relationships, one's place in the world created by God. It is also an album, perhaps, about being more in the present, less weighty, taking commitment, even, less seriously. Even the story of creation, retold in chant and music in "Paradise Hung" reflects humor and distance. In "Run," the words seem to speak not so much of panic, but of motion and change as a way of life. "Run from those thinkers whose thoughts never change, run from your home town 'cause it keeps you the same...." The theme is echoed differently in the album's title track, "Exile," "if I join what's moving, I may not notice how it stirs in me, grows in me." in which Schechter appears to be addressing the contradiction of life as an artist and life on the edge. The need to constantly withdraw, such that one is even an exile exiled from the company of other exiles. To survive, one needs to travel lightly, focus on the core, "keep it simple ... when one loves - say I love you, break it down." Yet there is also acknowledgement of strong roots and support, and perhaps "Scream" is as much an existential statement as a restatement of Munch's famous painting: "... You ... taught me how to climb ... I should try, and I could also fall of somewhere high and cry." Perhaps most tellingly, is the reprise of "Off and on" at the end of the album: "... I believe, off and on".

In some sense, "Exile," to me, also reflects the resumption of the process of thinking out what it means to be a Jew as a person in a world where "Jewish" is one of many facets to one's being. It is a discussion that began over a hundred years ago, and which was interrupted by the Holocaust. "Exile," signals that the discussion has been resumed. In that sense, "Exile" is a symbol of triumph, of refusing to forget, but of also refusing to stay withdrawn from the world.

Despite what I just said about a refusal to stay withdrawn from the world, "Exile" is very much a statement about motion and separation. One listens to the music and the words and thinks of tzimtzum, the contraction of God that enabled creation. The musicians and programming, including such well-known artists as Anthony Coleman on keyboards, are awesomely good, as is the small string section. This is the sort of album that you know you will listen to, more and more deeply, for years. It is also an album that signals even better music to come. For now, however, "Exile" is an incredibly wonderful sharing of one person's exploration of life, and a promise that the future is no longer the exclusive franchise of the past. Quite wonderful. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ari Davidow 2/22/03


All songs written and composed by Basya Schechter, arranged by Basya Schechter, Frederik Rubnes, and Pharoah's Daughter, except "Break it Down," cowritten by Benoir.

  1. Change your mind 4:21
  2. Going nowhere 3:36
  3. Exile 3:38
  4. Run 4:43
  5. Man in my head 4:47
  6. Off and on 5:06
  7. Break it down 4:32
  8. Statue 4:47
  9. Paradise hung 3:32
  10. Confession 3:42
  11. Scream 5:22
  12. Off an on (reprise) 3:39

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