Tuesday, July 17, 2007

a week in EPs day #2: gogol bordello - east infection

i'll admit that i only had four EPs in mind when i decided to write "a week in EPs," a not-so-risky proposition, i had thought. after all, i have many EPs, and i thought finding another one to write about would not be a problem. but i placed so many restrictions on myself that i soon found myself seriously, categorically assessing my music library for a worthy extended play album. major restriction: it couldn't be a fleshed-out single; that automatically dumped caribou's yeti, radiohead's my iron lung, the decemberists' billy liar, the dismemberment plan's the ice of boston, and all of my sigur ros EPs. i still had some really solid contenders for today's slot, with the yeah yeah yeahs putting up a good show with their breakout self-titled EP, which is one of my all-time favorites, but i had forgotten about east infection. and then i remembered about it, so that's the story behind today's EP. i've got the next three days planned out (but i can't tell, it's a surprise), so no more ambiguity, just the rock solid criticism you've come to expect.

i fucking love east infection. as an EP, i think it's pretty damn close to perfect; it made me hunger for more more more from the punks on the lower east side. no need to pretend you've got balkan rhythms here, because everyone in gogol bordello is actually from the balkans (quick bit of trivia: oren kaplan, half of balkan beat box, mixed several songs on this EP). lead singer eugene hutz has, by now, become ensconced in indie lore for his ludicrous self-presentation and supporting role in the film adaptation of jonathan safran foer's everything is illuminated, with good reason. hutz is fucking crazy.

gogol bordello is hutz's band. his charisma and exuberance are evident from the very beginning of east infection, gogol bordello's third release. you don't even need to listen to the album to get a sense of what he's all about - just look at the cover. there is no possible way a man like that will make bad music. this cover says one thing to me, and one thing only: FOR GOD'S SAKE, PLAY ME, AND LOUDLY! it's better not to argue.
east infection kicks off with a song of the same name, appropriately enough. it takes a few listens to decipher to words hutz spews through his pronounced accent (or possibly drunkenness), but the words are pretty much inconsequential. at 2:20, the song doesn't have the time to say much, and if GB is trying to get a message across, they basically fail. but, honestly, who gives a fuck? the accordion is boisterous, the drums are relentless, the fiddle is practically spastic with energy, the guitars are both tireless and nuanced, proving that gogol bordello lacks for neither talent nor style. the song is marked by periods of manic intensity, with hutz wailing at the top of his lungs about god knows what and the band plowing through their parts as if whoever finishes first gets a prize, alternating with pin-drop moments of absolute silence, like the calm before a storm. hutz's tourette-esque singing visually reminds me of roger rabbit - tongue-flapping, face-twitching spasms that start at the mouth and spread to the entire body in seconds - an aurally-induced seizure. they say sex is the best exercise, but a gogol bordello experience is probably a close second.

the rest of east infection is less spastic, though no less energetic. the EP has two obvious standouts, "mala vida" (which is actually a manu chao cover) and "copycat." apparently, hutz is also fluent in spanish, though he sings so quickly that trying to understand anything is an exercise in futility. i really love how much gogol bordello emphasizes their accordion, an oft-undervalued instrument. in "mala vida," the accordion gets to take the melody, giving manu chao's world sound a distinctly balkan bent, though hutz's heavily accented spanish adds to the eastern flavor - even in this wonderfully lyrical and rolling language, he still sounds like he's spewing consonant-flavored spittle all over the microphone. this version of "mala vida" is sweaty and filthy, spurred on by almost-unnoticeable handclaps, a chorus of voices behind hutz rowdier than a drunk frat party, and the constant churning of an electric guitar propelling the song ever forward (and on the beat). the high energy of "mala vida" is followed by a deep bass rumble which marks the opening of "copycat," a sneer anthem against imitation with some of hutz's most understandable lyrics (meaning, of course, that you can recognize about a third of them, most of which are curses). this song is stripped down in terms of instrumentation, gogol bordello having left the accordion, violin, and acoustic guitar at home. the song mostly consists of hutz singing "copy-copy-copy-copy-copy cat" over and over, though it has a special spot in my heart because of his acapella lines at the end: "copycat steals the towels / from your girlfriend's parents' house," delivered in his trademark accent.

only one song from east infection is repeated on gypsy punks underdog world strike, "ave. b," though the versions are somewhat different. but we're here to talk about the EP, so we will. "ave. b" is east infection's most laid-back tune, with delicate finger-picked guitars and a complacent accordion (woo!), as suits a song about sitting in a bathhouse. the song appropriately picks up when hutz sings about arguments bathing members have, like selling weapons to chechnyan rebels, and there's a kickass accordion solo in the middle, but this is the closest gogol bordello gets to a ballad on this album, and thank god for it. "strange uncles from abroad" is another excellent tune, with more of the stomp that we've come to expect from hutz, and a prominent violin line as well. the only song on east infection that doesn't do anything for me is gogol bordello's take on a roumanian folk song, "tu jésty fáta." it's slow, it's somewhat tedious, and it doesn't sound all that balkan, if you ignore hutz's unmistakable balkan-ness. anyway, it's at the end of the EP, so it's pretty easy to gloss over.the funny thing is, i didn't like gypsy punks very much. this EP is just bursting at the seams with quality and excitement and fun and sweat, and gypsy punks underdog world strike just didn't do it for me. so, as with beirut (and all the EPs this week), east infection symbolizes the way i wish gogol bordello had gone, instead of the way they went.

gogol bordello - "east infection" "mala vida"

buy east infection here.

photo appears in the phoenix review of gogol bordello.

1 comment:

AaronM said...

Have you listened to Super Taranta yet?
It's great.
If you think you don't like Gogol anymore, it ought to change your mind.