Saturday, August 4, 2007

who needs english? - golem

english is totally overrated. who gives a shit that over 600 million people speak it? it's totally unnecessary. who needs english? is yet another feature from the ever-fertile brain of mr. mammoth - a feature devoted to bands that do not perform in english. this includes artists who are not english speakers, sing in languages that are not english, or whose music is solely instrumental, and is not from an english-speaking heritage. who needs english? is not a feature about "world music" - personally, i really dislike the term, and think that's its far too overused/abused. who needs english? is a feature about bands i like that don't use english. end of story. on to golem.

the first time i heard of golem was when music. for-robots posted a list of their recommended mp3s from the sxsw 2007 lineup, which included "warsaw is khelm" by golem. i can't recall why i picked golem to download - maybe i liked the name, or i already knew they were opening for balkan beat box, and i wanted to get a flavor of their sound. either way, "warsaw is khelm" absolutely captivated me - honest to goodness klezmer, the kind that a christian who wished he had a jewish mother craves. and though "warsaw is khelm" is (mostly) in english, the fact that their songs are usually in yiddish, ladino, or other slavic tongues sweetens the pot (and guarantees them entry into the oh-so-scrupulously chosen "who needs english?" feature). you'll remember how taken i was with them after the bbb show, and i picked up a copy of their recent fresh off boat, afterwards. golem's website boasts that the album is "thirteen tracks in five languages," a serious feat for a sad uni-linguist like myself.

now for some background: golem is a blistering six-piece from brooklyn (where else?), who have the unique ability to boast that none of their instruments requires electricity. from frontwoman's annette ezekiel's accordion, to alicia jo rabins's violin, curtis hasselbring's trombone, taylor bergren-chrisman's standup bass, or frontman aaron diskin's tambourine/vodka drinking, golem can rock it anywhere (and they do). names like hasselbring or bergren-chrisman don't really instantly summon visions of shetls or yarmulkes, but their gentile heritage is no impediment to golem's pure and honest klezmer - they even have their own hora. watch out, though - this isn't your rabbi's klezmer.

fresh off boat is golem's fourth release and their third full-length, so they are no fly-by-night sensation. i have no had the pleasure of hearing any of their other releases (half of which are sold out, alas), but if they're anything like fresh off boat, they're fucking phenomenal. golem revitalizes what is already an active and exciting style of music, especially in songs like "bublichki," "the rent," or their ubiquitous hit, "warsaw is khelm." "bublichki" is my personal favorite for two reasons: first of all, it fucking rocks. rabins's bow races across the strings while hasselbring's trombone bleats behind it, a fierce chorus that alternates with a provocative and sensual increase in tempo, lead by diskin's rough and guttural yiddish verses. it is impossible not to have the rhythm get inside your body - "bublichki" was one of the crowd's dancingest songs in their set - no mean feat for a relatively unknown warmup band. my second favorite thing about "bublichki" is diskin's brief english interlude (i know, who needs it?, but at least i can get the jokes that way), where he laments the state of his family - his mother is a cleaning woman, his father a drunk, he sells bagels on cold street corners while his sister whores herself out nearby, though his little brother is probably the best off - "he picks the pockets of hipsters on the L train."

while golem's vigor and intensity in their songwriting is not constant, the high level of skill and ability is, and their multidimensionality is no small asset. every member of golem seems to be a fucking virtuoso, and it shows. the rhythms and melodies are complex and interwoven, often abruptly changing mid-song, but never faltering. golem plays dancing and drinking music, and the proper way to enjoy it is to do both.

they have a show in a few days in new york - an excellent lineup with the welsh sensations los campesinos!, deleon (who were the first opener at the bbb show) and nous non plus, and you can buy tickets here. i will obviously not be going, as i'm in scotland for the duration of the fringe festival, but you should.

golem - ">bublichki", "golem hora"

buy fresh off boat from the not-for-profit jdub records here.

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