Israeli singer/songwriter Asaf Avidan may be a newcomer to American audiences, but in his home country and throughout much of Europe, he's a major attraction with a stack of critically acclaimed records to his credit. After disbanding his longtime backing band the Mojos in 2011, he signed with Universal and released his solo debut, 2012's Different Pulses. The album hit a range of colors and amplified the creative ambitions he'd displayed with the Mojos, allowing him to stretch out and experiment. For his 2015 follow-up (and first U.S. release), Gold Shadow, he's dialed in on the sort of retro-leaning, moody midnight pop style that seems to be his bailiwick. As with all of his releases, the most immediately arresting element here is his voice. Unusually high and almost feminine at times, Avidan's vocal style is reminiscent of a 1940s torch singer with 21st century pop phrasing. It's certainly distinctive and likely polarizing to many, but he knows how to wield it to great effect, and on Gold Shadow he's written a potent set of songs that frame it well. Opening with the bluesy ballad "Over My Head" and the campy surf-organ rave-up "Ode to My Thalamus," Avidan sets a decidedly old-school tone that more or less continues throughout the album, with occasional forays into more contemporary-sounding songwriter pop ("The Jail That Sets You Free"). There are deep, mournful orchestral ballads like "My Tunnels Are Long and Dark These Days" and the title track, along with creepy blues dirges like "Bang Bang." Still, it's all very stylized and, though entertaining, it's hard to get a read on who Avidan really is. Tucked away at the end of the record are a pair of intimate solo acoustic songs that are both stunningly honest and at total odds with the album's overall tone. The elegant Leonard Cohen-esque "The Labyrinth Song" and the delicate folk ballad "Fair Haired Traveller" reveal the wonderfully talented songsmith without all of the affectations, and as a result come across as Gold Shadow's boldest statements.
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