Yonatan Gat – Universalists

Former Monotronix guitarist Yonatan Gat's new album is a radical evolution of his sound formed from a global range of influences

Album Review by Aidan Ryan | 01 May 2018
Album title: Universalists
Artist: Yonatan Gat
Label: tak:til/Glitterbeat (UK) Joyful Noise Recordings (US)
Release date: 4 May

Usually when critics fawn over anyone “exploring different styles,” or “experimenting with cultural influences” they mean a pop musician who’s found some old Fela records and a dusty samba whistle. But the guitarist and composer Yonatan Gat explores in earnest: for his second solo effort Universalists he cites influences including Genoan Trallaero singing, Mallorcan work-song, Balinese gamelan music, the Czech composer Dvořák, and IDM.

The album opens with Alan Lomax field recordings (Cue the Machines) and proceeds through pow wow-style polyrhythms, tonal percussion, saxophone licks, sampled and spliced vocal solos and choruses, rich string arrangements, and electronic production tools wielded like in-the-moment instruments rather than final steps. All this sometimes collides like giant machinery in industrial quarries of noise, but often finds and follows crystalline veins of found, rediscovered, and wholly invented melodies. The nuclear forces at the center are, of course, Gat’s guitar, which moves like a mind among the other assembled pieces and players, and the idiosyncratic shuffling space dust drums of Gal Lazer, just as essential a part of Gat’s sound.

Universalists doesn't feel like a sophomore album, perhaps because the guitarist and composer worked through all his growing pains with Israeli punk-pioneers and performance artists Monotonix. It doesn’t really feel like a departure from 2015’s Director either, which isn’t to say Gat is repeating himself: Universalists is an extension and expansion of his solo debut, an evolution as simultaneously radical and just-right as any of the changes he’s known for improvising live.

Listeners who’ve witnessed that improvisation first-hand will find Universalists, despite its heavy production, deeply satisfying. As Gat understands, music – no matter the tradition or instrument – can make concrete resonant, curve streetlamps, pour colour into the sky and suck it away. It's the art form that has the most immediate and sensible effect on the world around the maker and the listener; it is by its nature a shared ritual that transforms and sacralizes the space they share. Yonatan Gat wants his music to share everywhere with everyone – and Universalists is as close to that as one can imagine coming.