Eugene Hutz and his band of merry gypsy hoodlums got their start in the mid-1990s in that most Eastern of blocs, New York City's Lower East Side, as the house band of an after-hours club. Their wry combination of trad Ukrainian folk sounds (violin, accordion, brass) and unhinged punk-rock stomp appealed to locals who ate up their famously theatrical stage show. They have released several singles and albums on indie labels Rubric and SideOneDummy, and have toured extensively. Charismatic lead singer Hutz has also started an alternate career as an actor, starring in the 2005 film EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED.
Gogol Bordello has been breaking down musical barriers since 1999 with a supercharged music based on a brutal gypsy two step rhythm that sounds like an Eastern European cousin of ska, augmented by punk, metal, rap, flamenco, roots reggae, Italian spaghetti western twang, dub, and other sounds generated by gypsies and rebels from across the globe. This is intense transglobal rebel rock, not light headed world fusion pop. It's about believing that music and art can transform negative energy to positive and inspire individual intelligence.
What Operation Ivy is to the latter-day ska revival, Gogol Bordello is to the increasingly popular revival of Eastern European music. Blending gypsy rhythms with the intensity of alternative-rock, metal (and even rap), the group is justly renown for their charged live performances. The title track is a lovely mix of Balkan strings with pleasant screams from lead singer/ shouter Eugene Hutz. If only more of the songs followed its lead. As a whole, the album sounds like Leftie bumper stickers set to vaguely aggro "gypsy rock." "My Strange Uncles from Abroad" makes its political statement in a personal and affecting manner, but other tunes such as "Forces of Victory" are merely affected. It's hard not to agree with their world view or love for the woozy sounds of Eastern Europe. But on this album, GB make the Dead Kennedys seem subtle. And it would be nice if there were more variety to their sound. Perhaps they should collaborate with Beirut, Muzsikas, or Hawk and a Hacksaw next time? --Mike McGonigal
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