Golem are sort of the klezmer counterpart to both Gogol Bordello and World Inferno: all three bands came out of New York around the same time. Golem’s shtick is that they use biting old Jewish melodies as a springboard for edgy punk rock, crazy circus rock and straight-up hotshot klezmer. They’re playing the album release show for their new one, Tanz, at Joe’s Pub on May 29 at 9:30; cover is $14. The sedate, shi-shi venue has no idea what kind of madness they’ve gotten themselves into.
The current version of this band is probably the best ever. Sardonic, charismatic frontman Aaron Diskin and whirlwind accordionist Annette Ezekiel Kogan trade verses over the explosive rhythm section of Taylor Bergren-Chrisman on bass and Tim Monaghan on drums. The two lead instruments are Jeremy Brown’s searing violin and Curtis Hasselbring’s trombone, which typically takes a more brooding, ominous role.
The new album opens with 740, a hardcore tune that sounds like the Dead Kennedys gone to some ancient Ukrainian shtetl. Freydele brings to mind early-zeros Gogol Bordello doing a briskly swaying klezmer theme with funky chord-chopping guitar, a purposeful spacious trombone solo, and droll, surreal rhymes from Diskin. I’m a Snake has snarling, agitated harmonies from the violin and trombone, wailing against each other as Diskin and Kogan pair off. Love You All the Time is a very funny, rapidfire litany of things your mom doesn’t want you to do, from skiing in a blizzard to smoking menthols and drunk texting.
The brooding, reggae-tinged Mikveh Bath is literally drenched in history: Kogan’s understatedly plaintive vocals leave no doubt how much the song’s soon-to-be bride is dreading her wedding night, wondering if the guy she’s been married off to will be a good guy or a creep. By contrast, Miskayt is a hilariously strutting tango about a twisted couple who (spoiler alert) turn out to be perfect for each other despite their, um, imperfections.
With My Horse, the band makes galloping spaghetti western rock out of an old Russian tune: as usual with this band, there’s a biting irony and sarcasm underneath all the jokes. Here, Diskin’s narrator speaks German with the guards, Ukrainian with the other guys he’s locked up with, but it’s his horse – a mensch unlike all the people around him – that he can address in his mother tongue.
After Kogan sings a lickety-split, punk take of the klezmer standard Odessa, Diskin brings back the jokes with Poletim, a breakneck, snidely vaudevillian account of a team of inept would-be hijackers trying to get a plane from Vladivostok to Israel. The album’s title track turns out to be a deviously artful remake of David Bowie’s Let’s Dance, followed by Tum Balalaika, a springboard for some seriously feral Dick Dale style guitar tremolo-picking. That’s the album’s high point, musically; songwise, it’s the last track, Vodka Is Poison. Kogan and Diskin trade verses about why it either “Makes you round, makes you soft, makes it hard to get aloft,” or “Makes you happy, makes you free, makes you wish that you were me!” Is this the best album of the year? It’s one of them.