Growing up in Cape Town in the 1980s can really isolate an aspiring pop musician. With apartheid still a way of life in South Africa at the time, there weren’t many bands willing to perform in the country, but a teenaged Yoav found a way to soak up the music by stealing away to a neighbor’s house to hear the latest British pop hits. At home, he butted heads with parents who wanted him to play piano and cello instead of guitar, so he taught himself clandestinely, strumming his battered acoustic and writing songs while his family slept. He dropped out of college after only a year, moving first to London and then to New York City. With such influences as the Cure, Crowded House and Nirvana lighting the way, Yoav sent out demos and came close to signing a record deal, but it wasn’t until 2006 that luck shined upon him a move back to London led to work with a few producers who helped him fashion an acoustic guitar-based sound that included beats, loops and electronic textures.
Yoav’s debut Charmed & Strange (Verve Forecast) recalls the calliope atmosphere of Joseph Arthur and the poetic quality of Damien Rice. All the sounds on the album come from the acoustic guitar—not only the strums and riffs, but also the percussion, which Yoav gets by tapping various parts of the instrument. Fueled by his raspy but melodic voice, highlights include a subdued version of the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?” and the biographical “One By One,” which is about friends growing up and drifting into the “real world” of responsibility. And with soul-searching gems like these, the kid from Cape Town seems to have struck a nerve Tori Amos chose Yoav to be her opening act on her entire North American tour. After years of playing small gigs in various dives, this uncommonly talented songwriter finally has his moment.