Gogol Bordello, the world’s favorite transnational gypsy punk ensemble, have clearly taken a global position on music, with their culturally assorted lineup and equally varied instrumentation, and above all the veritable melting pot of sound from which their highly idiosyncratic and wonderfully frenetic songs are more often than not composed. Evidently, on both principle and artistic integrity, these gypsy-punk misfits defy just as many musical borders as they do the invisible geographical lines dividing the many states and countries of the world. Vocalist and guitarist Eugene Hutz, who is also Gogol Bordello’s charismatic and talented bandleader, even penned the line of lyrics, “Borders are scars on the face of the planet,” for the song We Rise Again, the opening track on the band’s latest album, “Pura Vida Conspiracy”; and I am inclined to agree with that statement, as many of you out there probably are as well.
Each member of Gogol Bordello—New York City denizens, all of them, or…children of the Mother of Exiles—brings his own cultural influences to the table. From Ukrainian and Russian to Ethiopian and Asian, to Hispanic and American, sure one can imagine the extensive range of musical styles, both old-time and latter-day, from which they draw so much inspiration, among other things; and together, they have managed thusly to forge an ever-evolving and highly eclectic signature sound of world music chaos and colorful immigrant punk. And…the band’s brand new full-length release on ATO Records, “Pura Vida Conspiracy,” is certainly no exception.
The Spanish portion of the title "Pura Vida Conspiracy" means "pure life." This is actually a very appropriate title, since it is a strong theme which runs throughout the entire the album. But we know that Gogol Bordello's Eugene Hutz has never shied away from sharing his personal philosophies, otherwise known as his "super theory of super everything."
In the twelve songs on “Pura Vida Conspiracy” one can decidedly still hear the high-energy gypsy punk sound which earned Gogol Bordello substantial notice at the beginning, but now there even more musical elements to listen for. All appreciably worthwhile, these latest elements, not to mention vital to enhancing an already complex and versatile central body of sound, like so many well-functioning appendages, they include compositional nuances and instrumental experimentation and worldly lyrical content straight from the heart, mind and soul, or the holy human trinity, as it were.
With their exceptional debut, “Gypsy Punks,” with such hit songs as Not a Crime and Start Wearing Purple (not my favorite songs on the album, but still pretty damn good nonetheless, largely because the entire album is positively amazing), then their slightly tamer but increasingly diverse follow-up, “Super Taranta,” and finally their Romany-infused and heavily South American-influenced “Trans-Continental Hustle,” the band has proved time and again that their musical prowess, bond song-crafting, and creative originality don’t just meet the standard but surpass it. The wholly unique and infectious elements of the one and only Gogol sound are present and accounted for on “Pura Vida Conspiracy,” but they are also built upon, so much so that it has become more than just a vibrant and colorful gypsy encampment on the fringes of town but also a sprawling and peculiarly ornate metropolis of wild sound and mad cultural variety, much like the boroughs and significant people, places and things of the band’s own New York City, with touches of Spanish Harlem, China Town, the Lower East Side, Alphabet City, Hell’s Kitchen, Central Park, Times Square, Brighton Beach, and so on.
Singer/guitarist and frontman Eugene Hutz is still at the helm of the Gogol vessel, navigating it through turbulent and serene waters alike, shirtless, mustachioed, somewhat disheveled, wearing skin-tight pants and thrift store chic accessories and armbands and ratty Adidas, a gold tooth glinting through a sly gypsy grin, and a gold hoop dangling loosely from a single pierced ear. And he is accompanied by fellow musicians and Gogol Bordello familia such as Thomas “Tommy T” Gobena (bass, backing vocals), Sergey Ryabtsev (violin, backing vocals), Yury Lemeshev (accordion), Pedro Erazo-Segovia (vocals, percussion, miscellany), Elizabeth Sun (backing vocals, washboard, assorted percussion), Oliver Charles (lead guitar), and Michael Ward (drums). Together, these masterful and visionary artists have laid down the twelve inspired tracks that are “Pura Vida Conspiracy.” There are a number of standout songs on the album, though it’s difficult to pick some over others since each one is worthwhile in its own way. The opener, We Will Rise, sets the pace for the album. Maladrino, a Spanish-flavored excursion, is a vagabond tale of one “born with a singing heart!” Lost Innocent World, with its unhurried verses with narrative vocal deliveries and catchy, up-tempo choruses, is a hard-time piece about revisiting old meaningful haunts to find them altogether different than remembered. Hands down, one of the very best songs on the album is It Is the Way You Name Your Ship, a rollicking composition with mid-tempo verses and sing-along type choruses; a song to which I can easily imagine a bunch tattooed arms in the air, all of them clutching pints of beer and sloshing it about as they join in, and in the background the sound gulls flying by and the ship creaking and groaning, in his quarters the captain slowly goes mad, and somewhere in the dank belly of the vessel a man picks the strings of his guitar and utters tales and philosophies and poems and certain life-things. And evoking the sweaty, frantic gypsy punk of the band’s early days, there are My Gypsy Auto Pilot and John the Conqueror (Truth Is Always the Same).
If you get the chance to attend a Gogol Bordello show, do it. They put on one hell of a remarkable performance. And if you’re not one to attend shows but are still interested in experiencing what Gogol Bordello does, you can watch the “Live from Axis Mundi” DVD, which also comes with a CD of rare BBC Sessions, Studio Sessions, demo versions, and more. This particular CD+DVD set was released sometime between “Gypsy Punks” and “Super Taranta!” on SideOneDummy Records. I have owned it for quite a while now, and I have lost count of how many times I have watched the DVD.
“Pura Vida Conspiracy” is available from ATO Records. Or, if you do manage to get out to one of Gogol Bordello’s shows, grab a copy of the new album from the band’s merch table.
For fans of: Mischief Brew, Guignol, Devotchka, The Barons of Tang, Chervona, VulgarGrad, The Dead Brothers, etc.