Reviews

'The Golem of Hollywood' Is a Fresh Novel About Truth and Justice

The father/son team of Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman debuts with an impressive novel that supplants expectations and enhances the legacy of both authors.


The Golem of Hollywood

Publisher: Putnam
Length: 560 pages
Author: Jonathan Kellerman, Jesse Kellerman
Price: $27.95
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2014-09
Amazon

Jonathan Kellerman and his son Jesse Kellerman have already distinguished themselves as ace storytellers, but they’ve outdone themselves with this genre-bending, impossible-to-put-down epic. The Golem of Hollywood tells the story of Jacob Lev, an LAPD detective, Harvard dropout, and burned out alcoholic who’s just been recruited for the most unusual case of his career. Someone’s found a severed head inside an empty house high in the Hollywood hills, with the word “justice” burned into a nearby counter.

Jewish mysticism, detective fiction, psychological complexities, and one of the oldest biblical tales bind together for a story that has no easy answers and eschews the neat ending of genre fiction. Indeed, the conclusion that will leave the reader meditating on the story they’ve just read for a long time to come. The Kellermans quickly strike the balance between the eerie and the intellectual, eschewing gore for questions about the ties that bind and the problems that seem to plague mankind one moment to the next, one continent to the next, one generation to the next, one millennium to the next and to the next, albeit without pretension.

Lev pokes around Los Angeles, consulting old case files, and tries to piece together the mystery of the severed head. It’s a Los Angeles that one of the elder Kellerman’s greatest influences, Raymond Chandler, would certainly recognize, even in the age of Internet connections, cell phones, and DNA testing.

It’s a place that fills its inhabitants with a kind of existential ennui that not even the bottle can quell, a place where the chasm between wealth and justice cannot be breached, and where we’re constantly reminded that justice is a concept that the human mind and human heart are incapable of fully understanding. It's a concept too awesome for our comprehension, despite our insistence upon it.

When the mystery at hand becomes too complicated to solve based on evidence in Los Angeles alone, Lev hops a plane for the old world and to Prague. It’s there that we become more deeply immersed in the world of the golem, especially the one that is said to have kept Prague safe.

Of course other writers have attempted to incorporate golems in their fiction and have failed. The Kellermans succeed in part because they don’t entirely discount this mythical creature; that is, they understand the use of the myth, its purpose, and the need to believe in something, anything that keeps us shuffling from one moment to the next.

The atmosphere of that great city is as authentic as the Los Angeles portrayed in the novel’s opening and closing moments and as expertly rendered as the Great Britain that Lev visits between making an unexpected discovery and returning to his homeland. These are not exotic locales conjured up for the sake of fulfilling some sort of genre expectation but instead because each place fills a necessary element of the plot.

The characters we meet on the old continent and the supporting characters who populate the more than 500 pages of this work are never cardboard cutouts who merely spit out pieces of exposition or important signposts in the plot. They’re well-realized and brimming with the same vibrancy as Lev and his father, Sam.

It’s further credit to our authors that the novel’s dialogue burns bright with wit and charm and is consistent with the narrative voice. The Kellermans allow the reader to occasionally feel as though he has gotten one or two steps ahead of the narrative, only to be snapped back to reality by some point or other that keeps the pages turning and the quest for the truth high on the priority list.

These qualities and many others make The Golem of Hollywood as much literary fiction as genre fiction, without apology. When the plot does begin to resolve itself, we are not so much relieved with its outcome as we are wiser for having taken this long and tumultuous journey with these characters. For that, the promise that the questions and the thoughts and emotions this story stirs in us are more important than the answers at which we arrive.

The Golem of Hollywood is a rare and original novel, one that upsets and transcends expectations and manages to surprise more often than one has the right to reasonably expect in a work of fiction. And it never disappoints. The story moves along with an urgency and intelligence that marks it as a work that is superior to most and worthy of the legacy that both authors have already established for themselves. For a work of its scope and length, it probes as many questions and beliefs and hopes and fears as it raises, and thus reveals itself as a work in which not one word is wasted.

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The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.


In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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