November 14, 2007


Rock’s Balkanized Route to the Indies (WILL HERMES, 10/21/07, NY Times)

[T]he most striking thing about DeVotchKa’s circuslike show at the Spiegeltent at the South Street Seaport in Manhattan in August was the music, a quilt of sounds from the international section of the iTunes store. One could hear mariachi ballads, polkas, horas and Gypsy tunes played on accordion, bouzouki, violins. But those sounds informed songs that also echoed the rhythmic bluster and vocal drama of 1980s alternative-rock acts like the Smiths and Talking Heads. The band’s cross-cultural recipe was made explicit when the young crowd began sloshing its beers to a bouncy, Balkanized version of the Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs.”

On any given night in an American rock club you can hear bands like Gogol Bordello, Man Man, Beirut and Balkan Beat Box playing odd-metered songs drawing on the rhythms of Eastern European Gypsy music. You might encounter Antibalas or Vampire Weekend riffing on African sounds, Dengue Fever making psychedelic Cambodian pop or a D.J. like Diplo spinning Brazilian funk. On the recent “Kala,” a contender for the year’s most exciting pop album, the British-Sri Lankan rapper M.I.A., who works from Brooklyn, draws on Indian, African and West Indian sounds. The folk-rocker Devendra Banhart creates fusions with Mexican and Brazilian musicians on his recent CD, “Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon.” And the veteran musical adventurer Bjork toured this year with a West African percussion troupe and Chinese pipa virtuoso.

Increasingly the back-to-basics movement that has characterized cutting-edge rock this century, from the blues-based hard rock of the White Stripes to the new wave-postpunk revivalism of Interpol, is giving way to music that looks further afield for its influences. And one result is a clutch of acts, many of them from New York, that are internationalizing rock’s Anglo-American vernacular.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 14, 2007 1:45 PM

It is paying off for these bands, Devotchka and Devendra in particular (at least in my opinion) to have drawn outside the norm for inspiration b/c their live shows are killer. Actually, all of these bands have reputations as being excellent on-stage, but I am the huge fan of Devotchka that I am for having seen them live.

Posted by: TitoP at November 14, 2007 7:06 PM

Must be a generational thing.
They all suck! And, you know what I like!
Even tho' I'm now listening to the best ever recorded performance of La Boheme.

"Every so often in the recording industry, there's a miracle, and this is one of them. This 1956 recording was organized quickly in New York, not on the heels of a stage performance and not even with a noted orchestra. All the right singers were in town at the same time--some popping in to sing a few bars before heading for the airport--and the result is the single greatest recording of this oft-recorded opera. The leads--Victoria de Los Angeles and Jussi Björling--would make it special in any case. But Robert Merrill is excellent and Lucine Amara is a light-voiced, French-sounding, ultra-stylish Musetta. This is also the only full-length Puccini recording by the great conductor Sir Thomas Beecham. A classic. --David Patrick Stearns

Posted by: Mike at November 14, 2007 10:53 PM

I saw Gogol Bordello a couple of weeks ago. It was one of the best club acts I've ever seen.

"Everything is Illuminated" sort of sucked as movie, but Eugene Hutz is a charismatic and entertaining fellow, and made a great soundtrack for Frodo to look soulful against.

Posted by: Ted Welter at November 15, 2007 11:50 AM