Lifting My ‘Rule of Two’ to Buy Elvish, Bordello Music That’s Out of This World

June 18, 2010

in Musical Musings

Rarely do I purchase full-lengths anymore. It’s become necessary (and, well, funner) to simply cherry-pluck a few songs from amid the muckle of platters on the market.

Being on a limited budget is, of course, the main contributing factor to this behavior. I download as many (legitimately) free mp3s as I can; most record labels these days will give away a couple to promote new LPs. Even the evil geniuses at iTunes offer at least one a week, as a way to boost sales. But these aren’t always the choicest picks of the litter or, in some cases, even studio tracks.

So, in general, when it comes to laying out cash for a sought-after song I allow myself to buy only two from each release. This seemingly random, self-imposed Scrooge-ism may sound limiting, and it is. However, knowing your limitations has its own rewards. For example, shopping this way forces me to make sure my picks are superior. And I’d like to think I’ve gotten pretty good at performing this act and am happy with the outcome — as are, I presume, Scribbleskiff’s faithful readers. (But, please, don’t make me explain my recent two-fers by JJ or Me’Shell Ndegeocello.)

On the whole, I believe my eclectic jukebox approach, though not exactly music to the music industry’s ears, is equally as enjoyable as a completist’s and allows me to spread the love a little wider.

However, recent releases by two different artists — one I knew well but in a different context, and one I wanted to know better — have proven too tempting. After previewing all the tracks online, I realized I just couldn’t make the hard choices. In both cases, I had to suspend my “rule of two” and go whole hole. Luckily these decisions have been more than just wallet-wearying – they’ve been eye-opening and mind-expanding. In fact, I can honestly say my latest purchases sound so good they are literally out of this world – out of the American pop music world, that is.

Following are brief reviews of each record, along with a sample song or two (click here to get Flash player version). You may also listen to a playlist featuring other songs by these and related or similar-sounding artists by visiting the Scribbleskiff page at 8tracks.com (just click here). I’d be willing to bet that, after listening to these cuts, you won’t be able to pick just one either. Enjoy!

Go, by Jonsi

Go, Jonsi (XL Recording). Jonsi is the nickname of Jon Thor Birgisson, the lead singer and creative force behind Sigur Ros, an electronic-folk group from Iceland known for their often foreboding experimental compositions. I once compared one of their songs to the music that I imagined the Elves in The Lord of the Rings would make if they formed a rock band: mystical, ethereal, alien. Well, as it turns out, Legolas himself has put out a solo record. (I also recently discovered that the volcano Eyjafjallajokull erupted with a similar soundtrack.) Like his band’s output, Jonsi’s solo debut — equal parts Animal Collective, Enya, Jon Anderson (of Yes), and Bjork — is expectedly noisy, romantic, sweeping, and weird. Yet it’s also remarkably diverse and complex, a witches brew brimming with lush string and peppy brass arrangements; layers of keyboards, both piano and synths; some surprisingly offbeat (literally) drumming and playful rhythms; and an odd array of musical instruments and vocalizations. It’s an eclectic collection of beautiful songs, really, very different from a Sigur Ros LP in many ways and unlike anything you’d expect to hear on the so-called U.S. “indie music” scene right now — and yet somehow reflective of that genre’s independent spirit. Best of all, Jonsi sings (mostly) in English, which is a welcome departure from the beguiling though nearly impenetrable patois of Icelandic and a make-believe language he usually warbles in. I really like the lead-off track and single, “Go Do” (watch the video here), which showcases Jonsi’s avian vocal range, soaring between tenor and high-altitude falsetto, buoyed by a mixture of polyrhythms and found sounds. Other favorites include the lilting “Boy Lilikoi,” the dramatic “Tornado,” and the anthemic “Grow Till Tall.” This is a great soundtrack for an early morning – it’s uplifting without being saccharine, mythical and ambient, yet devoid of any New-Age bombast. If you seek musical inspiration at the start of the day then, by all means, go buy Go.

Listen to “Boy Lilikoi” (mp3):

Trans-Continental Hustle, by Gogol Bordello

Trans-Continental Hustle, Gogol Bordello (Columbia). Now, if you’d rather skip the spacey sonority of Jonsi and jump right to the punch-, er, line, then these Slavic eccentrics are what you seek. From the opening chorus of “Pala Tute,” the opening track, Gogol Bordello flounces on your sonic doorstep, banging on the knocker with one hand and holding a bottle of vodka in the other (watch them perform it live here). Peddling songs in a sprawling musical style known as “Gypsy punk cabaret” — an apt term for a rabble of Romani merry-makers whose sound is at once grounded in Old World traditions and at the same time poised to grind your face with their fists — Eugene Hutz, the scrawny, scruffy Ukraine-born band leader and head nogoodnik, has a flair for the dramatic. His voice sounds at times like a sneering, snarlier version of Shane McGowan (think The Pogues, but with Russian accents), and at other times more comical and showy, like a Ringling Bros. ringleader or a meeting of Kermit the Frog and The Count. But the music he makes is anything but laughable. It’s a Molatov cocktail of influences — a shakerful of everything from European folk tunes, to ska, punk, metal, flamenco, and country — covering a range of political and social issues, all from an outsider’s orientation: cultural revolution, racial outrage, star-crossed love, immigration, and so on. And all sung in a “wild and crazy,” tongue-twisting mash-up of languages, lyrics, and labels: “Last One Goes the Hope” (huh?) or “Immigraniada (We Comin’ Rougher)” (wha?). But all of this incongruity and inelegance somehow makes the music all the more intoxicating and infectious. Listening to this new collection by Gogol Bordello — their major label debut, in fact, with Rick Rubin as producer — reminds me of my first taste of real Hungarian Goulash in Budapest. I wasn’t exactly sure what was in it, or how it was made, but it was so indescribably good that I knew, after only the first bite, I had to have more right away.

Listen to “My Companjera” (mp3):

Play

As always, tell us what you think. Are you a fan of Sigur Ros or Gogol Bordello? Have you heard either of these new records yet? What are your favorite songs? Let us know by leaving a comment below. By the way, this is our 100th post! Thanks to everyone who has been reading and commenting these past two years — especially you, dear reader, the one who has reached this the end of the penultimate paragraph.

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