Gogol Bordello – “Pura Vida Conspiracy”

(Photo Credit: Rolling Stone)

Grade: A-

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

Larry And His Flask – “By the Lamplight”

(Photo Credit: Brooklyn Vegan)

Grade: B

Key Tracks: “Pandemonium,” “The Battle For Clear Sight”

“By the Lamplight,” the second official release for the band Larry and His Flask, begins a capella. It only stays that way for a few beats, but it is enough for the band to set the stages. Larry And His Flask are, at the end of the day, a punk band. Yet the banjos and intense acoustic guitar are equally reminiscent of both folk and folk-punk bands, far away from the slight Irish tone to their music. They are a diverse band, taking their inspirations more from cultures than genres, like a Gogol Bordello without an eccentric lead singer.  Their second official release follows this trend, although it is a little more standard than their previous full-length. Still, the a capella opening acts as a bizarre intro for an unfamiliar listener and a gleefully expected one for fans.

When Larry and His Flask are at their best, which is often, they invoke one-thirds Mumford & Sons speed-folk and two-thirds Nekromantix rockabilly punk. The opening half of the album sees them accomplishing this frequently. Early track “The Battle For Clear Sight” has a nice addition of a female singer, Jenny Owen Youngs. The second half of the album gets a little bogged down in songs that sound a little too unoriginal, because of an already high standard that has been previously set. Still, the album’s fastest and slowest tracks, “Home of the Slave” and “All That We’ve Seen,” help to break it up some. And the band always sounds like they are having fun in the studio, which transposes to the listener. They are a fun band, one that genuinely enjoys what they are recording.

“By the Lamplight” is a little less experimental than their previous effort, but it still ranks the band among the most experimental bands in punk music. Their sound is equal parts Celtic punk, rockabilly and folk, and their diversity makes for a truly interesting band. I learned about this band after seeing them in Brooklyn open for the Menzingers (a perfect band), at a show that Gogol Bordello was coincidentally supposed to play at (it got cancelled part way through because of weather). If Larry and His Flask come your way, I recommend them live. Their diversity translates to a fun live show.

If you like this, try: Frank Turner’s “England Keep My Bones,” another diverse Irish-folk-punk musician whose best album is the second most recent.

By Andrew McNally