Music

Golem: Fresh off Boat

Deanne Sole

Punk is too strong a word for this band. The singers shout and wail, and the instruments sometimes leap into high gear, but their thrashing isn't angry punk thrashing. They're not rebels.


Golem

Fresh off Boat

Label: JDub Records
US Release Date: 2006-08-22
UK Release Date: 2006-08-22
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You can't go wrong with "Ushti Ushti Baba". Macedonia's Koçani Orkestar released a terrific version of this song back in 2002, so when I saw that Golem (a group I'd never heard before) had decided to start its new album with a slightly retitled "Ushti Baba", I rubbed my hands with anticipation.

It got better when I saw that the band's publicity was promoting it as "a six-piece Eastern European folk punk band" from the States. A punk "Ushti Baba" yawping with slop and sweat would make an excellent change from the precision of the native Romani bands that we usually hear performing these traditional songs. The precision is a thrill, but there's something to be said for giving the old music a kick and a shake. Any band being advertised as "Eastern European folk punk" nowadays is inviting comparisons with self-styled Ukrainian-American Gypsy punk Eugene Hutz -- would Golem sound like Gogol Bordello?

Well, no, as it turns out, it doesn't. The music shows a stricter fidelity to the actual songs of the region while Gogol Bordello uses Eastern Europeanism as a kind of jumping-off point. Gogol Bordello is more rock than folk; Golem is more folk than rock. Punk is too strong a word for this album. The singers shout and wail, and the instruments sometimes leap into high gear, but their thrashing isn't angry punk thrashing. They're not rebels. When everybody roars together on the word "diregelt!" in "The Rent", then it's funny and exaggerated, not threatening. It's a comedienne groaning oy vey! and rolling her eyes at the audience in mock anguish. The inability of the song's narrators to pay their rent is not an occasion for social outrage or disaffection or even your basic snotty, punky teen angst.

To call a band punk suggests that it's willing to sacrifice finesse for the sake of energy and on Fresh Off Boat there's every sign that Golem means to keep hold of both. This "Ushti Baba" is looser than the Koçani Orkestar's but it's just as tuneful. The accordion is biting and jaunty and there are some tense moments between Aaron Diskin's beseeching voice and Alicia Jo Rabins' shivering violin. "Aven!" he sings. "Aven! Me phenjake aven!" ("My sister, my sister, they're coming for my sister!"), and the violin jitters on a raw knife-point. You can't listen to the exactness of the percussion stings in "Czardas" or Rabins' controlled up-and-down wriggle in "Mazel" and think of them as punks.

When they go into a frenzy, as they do in "Golem Hora", it's all thanks to happy enthusiasm. Diskin sounds as if he's having fun with his singing, and he does it with such openness that you have fun listening to him having fun. "What a cheerful man", you think as he augments "Ushti Baba"'s usual lyrics with cracks of mad laughter. "Oh, he has a sense of humour", you realise during "Bublichki", as he implores you sadly to, "buy my bagels, I'm starving on this street corner ... my father is a drunk ... my sister is a street walker, such a shame to my family ... and my little brother, he picks the pockets of hipsters on the L train."

Both Diskin and the band's founder Annette Ezekiel relish every word they sing, and this is one of the things that makes Fresh Off Boat an enjoyable album. The energy of the other musicians matches that of the singers. Rabins' violin ranges from formal sweetness in the middle of "La Mariage", to a twirling, romantic sadness draining into quietude at the end of "Klezmerke", and the faster sawing of "Ushti Baba". Curtis Hasselbring's trombone has a drunken, fuzzy-bee character of its own. Tim Monaghan's percussion is unobtrusive but essential. There's not a tonne of innovation in the songs, but plenty of joy in the delivery.

Their Eastern European influences are filtered through a distinct American Jewish sensibility, with "Hava Nagila" being quoted extensively in "Golem Hora", and bits of "di di di"-inflected singing sprinkled here and there. Not surprisingly, Golem is based in New York, the epicentre of the klezmer revival. If there's one thing the albums from klezmer bands have been proving, it's that one genre can spin successfully in dozens of different directions. We've had the klezmer-gospel crossover (The Klezmatics: Brother Moses Smote the Water), the klezmer-postrock social-conscience album (Black Ox Orkestar: Nisht Azoy), the klezmer-O Brother Where Art Thou team-up (Margot Leverett and the Klezmer Mountain Boys: self-titled), and even a klezmer-ocker anthem (Klezmania: "Oystralie!" taken from Oystralia, a recording less well fleshed than Fresh Off Boat, but made with a similar spirit). Call this one a klezmer party album. All its gusto is to the fore. Behind the gusto there's a machinery of skill twirling away. They don't harp on the skill, but it's there if you want to take a look.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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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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