Black Francis – The Golem Rock Album Black Francis – The Golem Rock Album

Black Francis - The Golem Rock Album

For one of Pinpoint’s themed articles, we all submitted an album to reviewed by another writer. The goal was to expand our critical palettes by listening and reviewing an album outside of our conventional scope. I was prepared for anything. Dutch accordion music. Polynesian field recordings. Something by Wilco. But much to my surprise, my secret album was The Golem Rock Album by Black Francis. Black Francis, for anyone unfamiliar, is the stage name for Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV who lent his vocal and creative talents to the cosmically seminal rock band — The Pixies.

Black Francis embarked on a solo career following the Pixies’ final release Trompe Le Monde. Black Francis would continue his solo career under the name Frank Black, Frank Black and the Catholics and Grand Duchy. In 2008, the San Francisco International Film Festival asked Black Francis to score a silent film recently unearthed. The Golem was a soundtrack written for the 1920 silent film “Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam.” Are you kidding me? This is the album I get? A re-imagined soundtrack to fill the silence of a German expressionist film made by the guy in the Pixies? (Laughs) This will almost be like the time when I watched Nosferatu to the devastating backdrop of Sunn O)))’s Monoliths And Dimensions. Alright, I’m fucking down.

Der Golem was praised upon its release as an outstanding example of the then blooming cinematic art of German Expressionism. Despite the film’s longtime neglect from recognition, its visual style has been etched into the pages of history. The films of the Weimar republic are still used as academic examples or its contribution of artistic expressionism in a medium dominated by innovations. But it is not the deep plot or vast character depth Der Golem is known for. German Expressionism’s use of stylized cinematography, set design and lighting moved audiences and scared the ever living shit out of them when shown in movie theaters. (The cinematographer for Der Golem, Karl Freund, would later go on to work on the 1927 film Metropolis) Silent films and their achievements age well over time. Silent films also possess the benefit of having long segments of silence, or no sound for later musicians to fill with interpretive music.

The performance of Francis’s Golem soundtrack was released on a double dvd in 2008 exclusively through his own website. Interested parties can watch the original soundtrack synched up to the film here [http://vimeo.com/15581812]. Because the original soundtrack was constructed around a film, its structure hardly met the requirements for a stand-alone album. There were many themes, reprises and previews which made little sense for an independent album. A short while after the performance, Francis commented on the potential release of a commercial album. The Golem Rock Album is that commercial release. Shedding 24 minutes of incidental music, The Golem Rock Album rearranges the soundtrack into a rock album. The Golem Rock Album is Black Francis attempts to bring his noisy rock cabaret to a village contrasted in grainy black and white.
Anyone familiar with the work of Frank Black And the Catholics and to some lesser extent Grand Duchy (Francis’ collaboration with his wife) can expect some of the same in The Golem. The music is a guitar centered universe through the same loud-quiet-loud template made famous by the Pixies. While reeling back on the manic aspect of the music, Black Francis has formed an aura of complete confidence with no second guessing when it comes to song choices. “Bad News” sounds slightly odd but is sung with complete conviction. Francis’ confidence is also evident by scoring a film made almost a century ago. The theme of godly control over the albums makes for a world created by Francis, inhabited by Francis and ruled over by the artists himself.

Oddly enough, the style of high German expressionism fits with Francis’s vision of making music. Everything is viewed at an exaggerated angle with the contrast pushed to absurd levels. While still steeped in early 90’s post punk / alternative rock, The Golem becomes its own entity rather than a soundtrack. The mournful sounds of “The Flower Song” bursts and grows over the slow illumination of scene changes. The almost upside inverted solo of “Meet Me At the Ghetto Gates” brings new definition to the film’s mise en scene. If one can imagine mid 90’s alternative rock existing in the early part of the 20th century then it is not that difficult to think of Francis’ music being apart of the production. The awkward and misguided actions of the clay monster somehow fits Black Francis’ journey through this world. It is true that Francis never set fire to a Jewish ghetto however there seems to be some kinship among the two parties.

There should be no release why you shouldn’t familiarize yourself with the work of Black Francis or German Expressionism. The original film is free to download from the Internet archives (http://www.archive.org/details/TheGolem_893). While Francis intended the Golem Rock Album to be independent, it is almost impossible to divorce it from its conceptual underpinnings. Barring a couple of standout songs, the visual accompaniment is one of the strongest foundations for this record. I love old films as much as I love the Pixies. It is my only hope that the grindcore record I submitted will be met with the same joy and intellectual advancement.

Tracklist
1. Miriam and Florian theme (version 2)
2. Makanujo
3. Bad News
4. The Flower Song
5. (Oh How I Wish I Could) Stay
6. The Word
7. Astaroth
8. The Obedient Servant
9. The Maharal
10. Little Stars Theme
11. Miriam and Florian
12. The Conjuring
13. Meet Me at the Ghetto Gates
14. Stars
15. Custom All the Way
16. You’re Gonna Pay
17. The Word (reprise)
18. The Maharal (reprise)

Black Francis - The Golem Rock Album, reviewed by Kaptain Carbon on 2011-02-14T11:59:13+00:00 rating 3.7 out of 5



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