Golem / Homesick Songs
Aeronaut Records, AERO 0022, 2004
CD available from www.aeronautrecords.com
The attempt to adapt Yiddish folk music to modern punk sensabilities (or vice versa) is not new. This new album by Golem comes closest to matching glorious straight-ahead discordant bashing, humor, and Yiddish song so far. Opening with a wonderfully loud, exquisitely bashed version of "Odessa", the album promises to be a sure cure for too much elevator music. Unfortunately, not everything is so happily discordant. "Chiribim" is nicely played and despite some labored attempts at enthusiasm, never quite gels. It's the sort of song that everyone likes to sing in summer camp and beyond. It must be a lot of fun in concert. But here, it does nothing for me. Likewise, despite a fun intro by Nate Herschberg, fun voices and vile disgust at the end about "Columbus' medina," "Grine Kuzine" leaves me cold. The attempt to be "nice" works better on the album closer, "Belz" which actually manages to touch on the song's overwhelming sentimentality (it was originally written for pioneering Yiddish singer Isa Kremer, who was from Belz) transcending the saccharine without falling into self-conscious irony.
The band's basic technique is to use rough, often shouted vocals, clever asides, and unexpectedly excellent instrumentation, something that breaks out periodically, but doesn't become obvious until instrumentals like "Bukovinsky" or "Turkmenistaner"—not that there isn't a bridge, even there, that reflects more of a sloppy punk sensibility. This is the sort of thing that is easy to make fun and exciting live, but here the results are more mixed. The R-rated lyrics shouted on the break and Alicia Jo's lovely violin on "Romanesh" are typical, and just different enough to keep the listener listening. (Live, we'd be laughing and maybe shouting back at the band.) Similarly, "Mito" and "Nikolayev" manage to be both fashionably punk sloppy, and still fun and exciting.
Then, on Rumenye, Rumenye, the Aaron Lebedeff tour de force, Diskin (whose singing voice does nothing for me) let's his imagination go and begins riffing in ways new to the song and entirely fun. "Take two Golems and call me in the morning"--you'll have to get your own copy of the CD for the full context and full craziness. Diskin's craziness, unlike his singing voice, has much to commend it to the listener. This is not the Lebedeff Romania, Romania. But it's definitely the edgy, chaotic, Golem Romenye, and that's the most fun I've had listening to this song in many years. Even more intriguingly, Ezekiel's "Zlatopol" marries the better voice in the band to her own words and tune in which she successfully draws both the punkish and Yiddish folk sounds together in a new and edgily pleasing whole.
Some of the songs on "Homesick Songs" don't leave me homesick. But this is definitely a case where the parts are much more than the whole (and where some of the parts of quite, quite excellent). Overall, I really like this album and am stuck with the pleasing need to actually see this band in concert. That's a good place to be after listening to a good album.
Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 10/8/04
Personnel this recording:
Annette Ezekiel: vocals, accordion
Aaron Diskin: vocals, tambourine
Alicia Jo Rabins: violin
Curtis Hasselbring: trombone
Taylor Bergren-Chrisman: contrabass
Laura Cromwell: drums
- Odesaa (Peysekhe Burstein) 2:32
- Chiribim (trad.) 2:35
- Grine Kuzine (music: Abe Schwartz; lyrics: Chaim Prizant) 3:56
- Romanesh (trad.) 4:44
- Mito 5:53
- Nikolayev 3:11
- Rumenye (Aaron Lebedeff) 7:14
- Bukovinsky (trad.) 3:07
- Zlatopol (music: Alexander Olshanetsky; lyrics: Jacob Jacobs) 3:44
- Bialystok (Annette Ezekiel) 2:51
- Turkmenistaner (trad.) 4:58
- Belz (music: Alexander Olshanetsky; lyrics: Jacob Jacobs) 3:36