The Sway Machinery, who were the subjects of an interview in these pages right before Rosh Hashanah, are celebrating a double-whammy New Year this year: the second consecutive series of Hidden Melodies Revealed Rosh Hashana concerts, and the release of their first, self-titled EP, featuring six songs that combine traditional chazzanut with a fat brass section, rhythm-and-blues sensibility, and a dark, haunted aesthetic that feels more like an old shtetl ghost story than a modern synagogue prayer.
But the prayer is totally there. “Aveinu Malkeinu Z’khor” is a tinny, fabulous waltz with lead singer Jeremiah Lockwood almost fighting the heavy, driving melody to get a line in edgewise. “Ben Adam” is a grandiose, organ-layered jam with percussion that’s catchy as anything and a weird funk that, after three tracks of Howlin’ Wolf-style possessed country howling, feels almost cheating. Are we descending into a pop song? Or is it the first surefire way to learn traditional Hebrew melodies that sticks in your head and doesn’t leave, in the most welcoming way possible?
It might be both. Nothing about the Sway Machinery is traditional — from Lockwood, who sells hundreds of tickets to ballrooms but still busks on streetcorners and train stations, to his bandmates, whose day jobs include playing backup for Tom Waits and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The first minute and a half of this mini-album starts with Lockwood telling a story, a capella — “I can remember, I had a kingdom. And in my land, we were known as warriors and merchants. And we traveled far and wide, and the hooves of our camels knew the sands of many lands,” he intones, descending into something that we aren’t sure whether it’s supposed to be canonical, moral, or mysterious — and yet, in its own way, succeeds in being all three.
Pronounced: shTETTull, Origin: Yiddish, a small town or village with a large Jewish population existing in Eastern or Central Europe in the 19th and early-to-mid 20th century.