Review : Black Francis - The Golem Rock Album
PitchforkIn Jewish folklore, a golem is a human-like creature made of mud and animated by the word of a holy man. It's a pale imitation of God's creation of Adam-- close but not quite, because a golem has no free will and can only obey commands. In the most popular version of the myth, a rabbi in Prague creates a golem to protect the city's Jews from persecution, but the monster grows violent and out of control. This golem is a forefather of Frankenstein's monster, a parable about the power and pitfalls of playing god, or really, of any creative endeavor. The things you birth can get away from you; they can take on lives of their own.
The Golem: How He Came Into the World is a 1920 silent film version of the popular story (traditionally, golems also can't speak, which makes them an ideal subject for the pre-talkie era). Lately, film festivals and musicians have made a nice sideline of presenting live scores to such movies, and in 2008, prolific Pixes frontman Black Francis composed a soundtrack to The Golem for the San Francisco International Film Festival. That score was released in a limited run of 500 as a 5xCD set comprising the live performance, studio recordings, and a DVD of the film synched to the soundtrack. (Along with the Pixies' retrospective Minotaur, Francis seems to be developing a thing for monsters and box sets.) Now, Francis has boiled the material down to The Golem Rock Album, a relatively lean, hour-long set of 18 songs whose title suggests that we judge the record as a stand-alone entity. No film screening necessary.
And it is a rock album, as far out from the Prague ghetto as you'd expect Francis to take it-- less old-world beer-hall or chamber music than new weird Americana. The album opens with the familiar, spaced-out surf guitar strum of "Miriam and Florian Theme (Version 2)" but quickly descends into more raucous territory. This golem doesn't lumber and skulk so much as swagger and be-bop and damn near line-dance. Sure, there are vestigial strings and harpsichord and even a waltz, but they're secondary to guitars that range from acoustic strum to western twang to fried bluesy leads-- and to a saxophone that blows through some songs with Morphine-grade melancholy and rips up others with sputtering free-jazz bleat and squeal....full text
PopmattersIf The Golem Rock Album is your first post-Pixies experience with Charles K. Thompson—the only consistent name throughout his musical career as Black Francis, Frank Black and, lurking on Internet fan forums, frankusblackus—a couple things will be apparent immediately that are worth mentioning.
First, his voice has changed. There’s more grit in his growl, and that’s to be expected considering the Pixies last fooled the world with an album 19 years ago (let’s hear your pipes now compared to those of 1991). Second, if he wants to sing out, he’ll sing out. He didn’t completely sidestep melody when he was firmly etching 4AD on the map, but there are more than barks and moans here, a vestige of the more straightforward Frank Black that came out in Nashville holidays in the sun like 2005’s Honeycomb.
Listeners reacquainting themselves with Black Francis may be reminiscing about the ghosts of Pixies past, but this album wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for looking back in wonder. The recording reviewed here is a compressed revision of Francis’s original soundtrack for The Golem: How He Came Into the World, a black and white slice of silent German Expressionism that passed for a horror flick in 1920. You don’t need to know or even give a flying caribou about the film’s existence to appreciate this version, and knowing the lowdown actually spoils the cryptic quality of Francis’s writing—you may have had no idea what sci-fi brain batter like “slicing up eyeballs” referred to on Doolittle, but damn it if you didn’t love it that much more because....full text
TinymixtapesEven without the obvious physical resemblance, it’s easy to see why Black Francis might be interested in the creature called the Golem. His lyrics have always been preoccupied with monsters and aliens and dark conspiracies, while his music — with its off-kilter chords and angular surf guitar solos — consistently pushes at the boundaries of the weird. Indeed, if Stephen Malkmus is the Gene Kelly of indie rock, then Black Francis is its Boris Karloff; no matter how much green makeup he’s wearing, he lets you see the uncanny kernel of human longing inside what otherwise might seem monstrous or perverse.
But Black’s latest album is also a soundtrack to a 1920 masterpiece of German expressionist cinema, The Golem: And How He Came Into the World, and the assignment gives Black a chance to revisit his past and, more importantly, his reputation. Set in a 16th-century Jewish ghetto, the film depicts Rabbi Loew’s efforts to protect his community by constructing a giant man of clay: a part-bodyguard, part-butler cyborg, with, of course, a heart of gold. Unsurprisingly, the Rabbi’s airtight plan quickly goes awry; asserting his own power, the monster first kicks a few locals in the taco (so to speak) and then, in his quest for a bit of loving, sets the ghetto on fire. Although set in the past, the film clearly offered its producers a chance to explore the Jewish prohibition against images in a thoroughly modern way. The Rabbi’s artistic sorcery — he creates both the Golem and then a small film out of thin air — brings down the wrath of God, suggesting perhaps that the worship of mass-produced icons and images (like, say, swastikas or giant red bullseyes) can only lead to doom.
Frank Black is no stranger to the dangers of public images or the wiles of public reputation. He’s made a career of creating avatars for himself and then bashing them down again, to the great thrill and frustration of his fans. As Pixies started to crash and burn, he sang of both the difficulties of protecting the b(r)and name and the need to abandon your own creations: "Go, go, little record, go/ It is named by some guy named Joe/ And the words are the letters of the words, said/ Electrically played for outer space and those of they who paid/ This song has twice occurred, and now its time to go away on holiday." It’s interesting to think of Black’s past successes stalking, Golem-like, the world of independent music without him, vexing his future efforts as a musician. On The Golem, though, he most forcefully identifies with the Rabbi, whose faith crumbles alongside the world around him and whose only response is to remake it according to his own graven designs. The highlight occurs near the end of the album, in a song called “Custom all the Way,” a kick-ass ode to DIY garage art, a disposable aesthetic that means everything and nothing in the post-Pixies ghetto: And I conjured in the dark, and I spoke with evil's son/ It's like custom all the way, but I'll smash your perfect parts when your task is done/ It's like custom all the way…/ There ain't nothing wrong with that, it's like custom all the way."...full text
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