Can!!Can, a punk rock trio from Atlanta, all but represents the very modern notion of alternative Judaism. Signed to JDub, the record label shared by Matisyahu and Golem, Can!!Can brings a much louder, harsher sound to the Jewish music scene. Namely, that of first generation punk rock cranked up a few more notches.
Jewish online newspaper The Forward wrote just last year, “The leader of the band Can!!Can is looking to redefine just what it means to be Jewish and a punk rocker.”
But Patrick Aleph, a longtime Atlanta musician and founder of punktorah.org (recent blog post: “What does the Torah really say about marijuana”), isn’t nearly the first Jewish punk. Remember The Ramones? Jews. New York punker Richard Hell? Jew. So while not the first, Can!!Can’s Aleph (the band’s only tribe member) is carrying the torch of a long, proud tradition.
And with Monsters and Healers, the band’s second album, he’s doing a damn good job.
The album is full of short, punchy, punk blasts — 10 songs in less than 30 minutes — pairing Mary Collins’ jagged guitars and Josh Lamar’s tight, controlled percussion with Aleph’s ragged howls and chants. Judaism filters through the album’s lyrics subtly, but any fans reading the liner notes will pick up Aleph’s references. In the brash, brassy opener “Giants,” he crows, “You build an altar, you find a priest. Two tablets tell us what to do and say and feel and think.” Unlike, say, Matisyahu, whose music often qualifies as near-worship, Aleph isn’t afraid to question authority — the highest authority, that is.
Can!!Can improves on the classic punk rock model, though, by including honest-to-goodness catchy choruses. Where many punk bands prefer to simply chug along without much concern for harmony or real song structure, the tracks on Monsters and Healers will have you singing — or screaming, as it were — along in the car to these memorable hooks.
Monsters and Healers reaches its peak with “Victim,” with Aleph sing-talking over a steadily-churning guitar, before the tune breaks into a layered chorus that verges on haunting. By the time the album ends on a song called “Brutal,” that’s about the best descriptor you could use.
Can!!Can may not be as groundbreaking as The Ramones, but when it comes to Jewish-shaded punk rock, this Atlanta band may be your best bet.
(Justin Jacobs can be reached at email@example.com.)