Here's something a little different: a highly international gypsy punk band from Manhattan. They have been a favourite of mine for a long time, with a number of songs on 2007's Super Taranta! on my internal playlist that I sing along to when I walk. Technically, they count as an American band, a product of the wild diversity that is New York City, but their sound is rooted in the Romani culture of eastern Europe and tends to be described as gypsy punk, because of its sheer energy and use of instruments like violin and accordion.
This is their ninth studio album and it's an important one because of its timing. The band's leader is Eugene Hütz, he of the wild lead vocals, acoustic guitar and occasional percussion, and he hails from Ukraine, which wasn't at war when the prior Gogol Bordello album, Seekers and Finders, was released in 2017. However, a couple of other key members—violinist Sergey Ryabtsev, who's been part of Gogol Bordello longer than anyone else except Hütz, and guitarist Boris Pelekh—are both Russian. They're therefore a perfect example of how the two countries can get along fine and put something new and vibrant into their shared culture. Reality isn't following suit.
And so it should surprise to find that this comments on the war. The cover art is white on black but for the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag, colours you'll also see as the backdrop if you visit the Gogol Bordello site on Bandcamp. There's also a reworking of Forces of Victory here, a song from Super Taranta! with guest performers, that was released as a single before this album came out. I should note that the singers helping out Hütz are Oleksandra Zaritska from Kazka, an electro-folk band, and Serhiy Zhadan, who isn't a singer at all but a writer, who collaborates with the ska band Zhadan i Sobaky. Both of course are Ukrainian and the lyrics are translated into that language.
I don't believe Solidaritine is a real word in any language. Here it's what Hütz calls an "imaginary substance that unlocks our empathy and our full human potential, which is supposed to unite us in overcoming our common problems." To me, it sounds like Gogol Bordello and it's a great way for a wartime album to kick off, even if I much prefer the next song, Focus Coin, about something as odd as cryptocurrency.
It does something that I adore Gogol Bordello for doing, which is to meld different genres into an impressive new sound. It's got all the energy that their usual gypsy punk has and it's impossible to listen without moving with the rhythm and tapping it out with your toes. It's a mix of ska and punk with an up tempo beat, some teasing ZZ Top guitar in the second half and and even soulful backing vocals reminiscent of Joss Stone. It would be my favourite song here if Fire on Ice Floe didn't show up much later on.
Focus Coin is more immediate, the sort of song that has you partying even on a first listen, but Fire on Ice Floe kept on getting under my skin with every time through until it was impossible to ignore how much it had got to me. It's subtle as it begins, quiet but for Hütz's vocal and wonderful work from new fishes Korey Kingston on drums and Gill Alexandre on bass, both new to the band in the past couple of years. The verses are chill in a way that only this band can be chill but the hook is an absolute peach and it just keeps building as other instruments join the fray. I picture it like a quiet dancefloor that ends up joyously packed.
After those two classics, there's a bit of a gap. My Imaginary Son really nails its grooves, both the hardcore sections and the ones with plucked strings, while I'm Coming Out is agreeably odd, with quirky lyrics referencing Zombie Lifestyle magazine, which I ought to check out, just in case is isn't a product of his imagination. Oleksandra Zariska returns on Take Only What You Can Carry, while H.R. from Bad Brains steps in to help out on The Era of the End of Eras, adding his characterful and personal touch to the song. Blueprint is a Fugazi cover, one that they play live often and righly so, because it has such a Gogol Bordello drive to it, all the way to the brass that dominates the end.
The beauty of what Gogol Bordello do is that their sound is such a vibrant patchwork of styles that my choices for standouts may well not be yours and that's fine. Their potent energy infuses every song but the particular recipes that each song uses for flavour are highly personal and will speak to different people in different ways, depending on what you and I and anyone else bring with us. I'm not going to catch them in Tempe at the end of the month, but seeing them live is certainly on my bucket list and I'll get there at some point. In the meantime, this.