Key Tracks: “Dig Deep Enough,” “Malandrino”
Let me start by admitting something: Gogol Bordello has been one of my favorite bands since “Super Taranta!” came out in 2007. Eugene Hutz and his gang could release an album of nails on a chalkboard and I’d find something great to say about it. Okay. That’s out. Let’s start –
Do gypsies ever slow down? Do they settle, even for a period of time that’s barely remarkable? This is the main existential crisis at the heart of “Pura Vida Conspiracy,” the sixth album from the world’s only famous gypsy-punk band. They have been on tour since they formed in the late ’90’s, recording and performing all around the world, and taking their inspirations from as many places. Singer/guitarist Eugene Hutz is Ukrainian, and the rest of the band hails from all over Europe, bringing folk, flamenco and salsa into standard punk music. Where did they form? Manhattan. 2010’s “Trans-Continental Hustle” was recorded after Hutz lived in Brazil. “Pura Vida Conspiracy” was recorded in El Paso, Texas. Hutz sings about people in all cultures and in all walks of life, always convincing the listener he has experienced each one firsthand.
But this is the band’s first introspective record. Think back to previous albums. 2005’s “Immigrant Punk” dealt with world travelers. 2007’s “American Wedding” was an open letter on how boring American cultures can be compared to European ones. 2010’s whole album “Trans-Continental Hustle” tackled the inherent contradictions in the idea of immigration. But here, Hutz sings about himself. On a track called “The Other Side of the Rainbow,” he proclaims that the other side of a rainbow is black and white. Gogol Bordello are world travelers and surprisingly famous, given their totally radio unfriendly acoustic-electric-flamenco-salsa-dance-political-hyperspeed-punk. What Hutz has found, however, is an unexpected hollowness in being well-known. Maybe it is because his previous political motives haven’t made waves, or maybe it’s because Hutz is disgusted by fame. But this album features more slower tracks than previous efforts. Slow Gogol Bordello sounds bad on paper, but the collective can still pull it off.
There is still ferocious drumming and acoustic guitar. Hutz’s voice is still ridiculously Eastern European. The album blasts out of the gate with three speedy and diversely inspired songs. Track two, “Dig Deep Enough,” is my personal favorite, and features a reliance on flamenco inspiration, pretty new to the band. The introspection starts soon after, leading to the first Gogol Bordello album that actually makes the listener think instead of blinding agreeing with political ambitions. Lyrically, it might just be the strongest album yet. Musically, it isn’t. Something about their formula of ten stringed instruments playing over brutal drums never gets old, and the album could use a little more oomph. It doesn’t fit with the lyrics, yes, but the album does get just a little too down at points. Still, Hutz’s existential lyrics are frighteningly easily to relate to, and poetic, and carry any bogged down moments. “Pura Vida Conspiracy” isn’t so much disappointing as it is different. We probably should’ve seen this album coming, we all knew Hutz wouldn’t be comfortable with fame. Politics were swapped out for personal. It’s new, even for them, but as long as Hutz and his (currently) seven-piece backing band can keep delivering a whole beautiful mess of ideas, we should be on board.
If you like this, try: Okay I thought about this for a while and there aren’t any bands I can think of that sound remotely like Gogol Bordello, so how about Dropkick Murphys’ “The Meanest of Times” (2007). A punk band that began to get introspective, and there’s accordion. As close a connection as I can make.
-By Andrew McNally