My view: 'Gypsy Punks Underdog World Strike'
By Robert Uyeyama
Special to The Advertiser
By Robert Uyeyama
CD: "Gypsy Punks Underdog World Strike" by Gogol Bordello; SideOneDummy
Release: August 2005
Style: Folk punk
The band: Most people have likely never heard anything like Gogol Bordello, which presents eastern European Gypsy music in a frenetic punk vein. Imagine that the evil spirit of Rasputin has possessed the fun-loving members of Reel Big Fish, and forced them to play an amphetamine-laced Gypsy wedding polka — and that the result was somehow a good one.
The latest album is the band's debut on punk label SideOneDummy, released in a year in which the band and lead singer Eugene Hutz also appeared in the feature film "Everything is Illuminated," starring Elijah Wood.
The music: Apparently there is nothing like seeing this band live in a raucous performance. However, this studio album comes across as the real thing, surely in no small part due to producer Steve Albini's (Pixies, PJ Harvey, Nirvana) famous hands-off approach: The music truly sounds as though it was recorded in the explosive drunken moments just before a barroom melee. Hutz's voice sounds raw and intoxicated, yet intensely sincere in a manic way.
The band's European Gypsy influence is clear in its dark, melodic lines, as well as instrumentation that centrally features the talented pair of Yuri Lemeshev on accordion and Sergey Ryabtzev on fiddle — this is no three-chord punk band.
But listen further and influences from other underground genres creep in unapologetically: Jamaican dub MC Ras Kush on "Not a Crime" and "Avenue B," Spanish lyrics in "60 Revolutions" by Ecuadorian MC Pedro Erazo, and bits of reggae, Latin and techno sprinkled elsewhere.
The band is based in New York, where Hutz became known as the crazed world DJ of the Bulgarian Bar. But Hutz began his journey in his birthplace of Kiev, subsequently fleeing through various refugee camps in Hungary and Poland. This immigrant experience is the essential nature of the Roma, otherwise known as the Gypsies — they have no home country and are always outsiders. It's a wonder that the Gypsy-punk fusion hasn't become popular earlier. It's also difficult to decide if Hutz's earnest lyrics are tongue-in-cheek, or an illuminating window into a Gypsy hyper-realism.
My take: At first you might not believe you are actually listening to this music, but after a while you'll realize half the album has already played through and that you're still happily absorbing! For fans of '80s European folk punk bands such as The Pogues or Mano Negra, this album is easily the logical next step. If you are entranced by the frenzied eastern Gypsy aesthetic, but not the punk one, you could easily move toward a host of such music, from the Romanian band Taraf de Haidouks, the Serbian brass band Boban Markovic or the saxophone of Macedonian Ferus Mustafov.
For those in search of unusual fusion music, this disc is a must-listen. Then again, don't think about it too much. As claimed by the nonsensical lyrics to the fourth track, "Start Wearing Purple": "All your sanity and wits, they will all vanish, I promise, it's just a matter of time!"
Robert Uyeyama, a University of Hawai'i Manoa graduate student, plays in the local band Mabanzi Marimba.