Angus Gibson reviews By My Silence by SONiA disappear fear, the long-running project from Baltimore singer/songwriter Sonia Rutstein. The album is out now on disappear records.
SONiA disappear fear knows the political power of a pop-tinged chorus. These days, the art of the protest song is often pigeon-holed as the domain of sombre bearded men in jumpers. Yet the conga-led groove of By My Silence’s opener, ‘A Voice for Nudem Durak’, shatters this perception, as does the remainder of the eclectic-yet-melodic album.
‘A Voice for Nudem Durak’ calls for the release of a Sunni Muslim imprisoned for singing in Kurdish, a subject matter that brings to mind the murder of Chilean folk singer Víctor Jara by the Pinochet regime in 1973. The song’s eight lines sway from reggae verse to anthemic chorus with surprising ease.
The title track, ‘By My Silence’, is an anthem for our dark age of travel bans, rising antisemitism and the erosion of workers’ rights. The words are set against an exquisite arrangement that highlights the record’s main strengths: Sam Weiser’s strings and John Grant’s spacious production.
SONiA’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah grasps what many don’t; that the song is angry, that ‘love is not a victory march’. By My Silence inherits much of Cohen’s Jewish tradition, from SONiA’s vocal delivery, to the string arrangements and two Hebrew hymn-like folk songs ‘Hatikva’ and ‘Oseh Shalom’.
The record is centered on the relationship between Judaism, refugees and political responses to sexuality (much like Ezra Furman’s recent effort, Transangelic Exodus). SONiA relates the experience of refugees in Germany today to Jewish people throughout history with refreshing compassion. Meanwhile, she fears the reconciliation of her faith and love, asking if coming out as gay will be ‘ok with God and our mothers?’
By My Silence confronts incredibly serious issues, but it does so in 30 minutes of world rhythms, pop choruses and luscious strings. It’s very listenable, which provides its ultimate potency. As SONiA says, ‘through the power of music we can create great civil awareness so that Nudem Durak be set free.’
Angus Gibson usually writes about music and football. He has degrees in Modern History and Journalism and enjoys nothing more than listening to Bob Dylan while drinking tea.