Golem – Fresh Off Boat
By Matthue Roth
It’s really hard to be snobby about Golem. And yet, there are so many reasons to—the panoply of languages they sing in that none of their fan-base actually speaks (Ladino, Ukrainian, Yiddish), the fact that they call themselves “punk” when there’s nary a guitar around, most of their vocals are closer to singing than screaming, and their angst is
relegated to son-in-laws and bagels.
But, when you actually listen to Golem, the New York-based Eastern European revival band, you get a sense that they’ve grasped something primal and innovative about klezmer, something that none of the zillion other neo-klez bands out there understand—duh, klezmer is funny. From the drums-and-clarinets breakdowns to the manically shouted choruses, often in Yiddish and as throaty and growly as you can imagine, they turn klezmer into a contact sport.
Wacky and fresh, Fresh Off Boat is a bit like getting into a New York City cab without directions—you don’t know where you’re going, you don’t know how you’re getting there, and there’s a severe linguistic barrier between you and your driver, but one way or another, you end up getting there. First and foremost, this is a dance record. But it’s a dance record played on violins, accordions, a stand-up bass and whatever other instruments they have around. “Ushti Baba” is a three-minute study in controlled wackiness; “Charlatan-Ka” has carefully modulated tempo changes and could be a veritable ska anthem.
“Warsaw is Khelm,” the single, pays respect to the mystical town of Jewish folklore stories. There’s even an obligatory hora (“Golem Hora,” which does everything you want it to, Bar Mitzvah or no). Fresh Off Boat has been introducing Golem to the wider audience it deserves, and they aren’t showing any signs of letting up.