Arising from the fertile Montréal post-punk scene of the early 2000s, the band comprises Scott Gilmore, Jessica Moss and Thierry Amar of Thee Silver Mt. Zion (Amar also continues to compose and play bass for Godspeed You! Black Emperor) and Gabriel Levine of Sackville. Black Ox made two acclaimed albums of roiling acoustic avant-folk in the mid-2000s, exploring Eastern European and North African folkways through the lens of a gritty, resonant indie rock sensibility, juxtaposing interpretations of instrumentals from various Jewish, Romani and Arabic traditions with originals led by Gilmore’s politically-charged Yiddish vocals. These early albums have since become lodestars for many among a new generation of Yiddish, Klezmer and radical Jewish diasporic music practitioners and fans.
First revealing its resurrection in February 2022 with a surprise flexi 7” single issued by leftist magazine Jewish Currents as a gift to its thousands of subscribers, Black Ox has indeed fully and fruitfully reunited. Exquisitely recorded by Greg Norman (Jason Molina, Nina Nastasia, Electrical Audio), Everything Returns picks up right where the band left off: an incisively atmospheric, melancholic yet resolute album of uniquely modern Jewish folk music, with piano, violin, upright bass, clarinet and cymbalom making up the core instrumentation, and the vocal tunes sung primarily in Yiddish, alongside album centerpiece “Viderkol” and closer “Lamed-Vovnik” where English also features.
This is not fusion music, but diaspora music: a cross-cultural call and response of musical lexicons, emerging from the history of Jewish persecution and displacement, the musicology of 19th century repertoire from Jewish shtetls, the improvisational traditions of nusakh in Jewish music and taqsim in Arabic music, and a wider polyglot dialogue of Jewish, Slavic, Arabic, and Central Asian musical traditions. Lyrically and stylistically, Everything Returns connects key current issues—from refugees forced to leave their homes, to the return of fascism and exclusionary nationalism—with the legacy of modernist Yiddish poetry and song.
The new Black Ox Orkestar album is a sublime, poetic, politically-informed statement of re-energized diasporic musical intent, where Gilmore’s voice and the band’s simmering arrangements conjure an ardent, doleful balladry that echoes the sound and sensibility of artists like Tindersticks, The National, Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen. Everything Returns is a haunting, richly textured, darkly sparkling song cycle at once from a vanished world and very much of our time and place. ✪