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A Holy Riot

October 6, 2011 | By

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How do you rebel against a culture while still participating in it? The Orthodox Jewish punk band The Groggers might be the perfect answer. Their just-released album There’s No ‘I’ in Cherem is a mix of reverent songs and supremely irreverent ones. (“Cherem,” by the way, is the Hebrew word for “excommunication.”)

The song “Friday Night Lights” is a surprisingly tender tribute to the “Shabbat mitzvah”–that’d be, uh, sex–and “Yetzer Hara” is a straightforward rock-’n-roll anthem about “the battle in your mind between evil and divine.” Lead singer L.E. Staiman voices his insecurity about committing to a religious lifestyle on “One Last Shatnez”: “It’s my one big chance/cause i’ve got mixed fibers/in my pants.” (Shatnez refers to the biblical prohibition of wearing a blend of wool and linen.)

Staiman’s love for being Jewish is unmistakable. His passion is apparent in every lyric on this album, both when he’s proclaiming it and when he’s wrestling with it. (And yes, on songs like “Shatnez,” he does overshare…just a bit.) But his heavy-handed battles are offset with a good-natured humor–for instance, the hilarious Leonard Bernstein-inspired dating scene in “Upper West Side Story.”

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