There’s a certain pleasure I derive from listening to a small little genre of music known as “gypsy punk”. It truly is Old World music, with plenty of “oomph” and mysticism, and while I’m not nuts about the wardrobe and prevalence of twisty moustaches, there’s very little you can do to avoid tapping your feet and wanting to dance just a little to this sort of music. It’s what Gogol Bordello specializes in, and they’re one of the few groups I can count on to deliver interesting and fun records time and time again. Of course where they really shine is in their live shows, which are some of the most insane and blissful releases of energy you can get these days. I saw the band perform at Lollapalooza a couple years back and they blew me away with their vigor for life, among other things. They return to Lolla later this year, among many other festivals and extensive touring they’re prone to do. It’s all in support of their new album “Trans-Continental Hustle,” which came out yesterday.
So there are plenty of great things about Gogol Bordello, but there are some small problems with the band too. Mainly they have issues with sonic diversity. “Trans-Continental Hustle” is the band’s fifth long player, and you’d be hard-pressed to identify exactly how it differs stylistically from any of the band’s previous work. Quickly strummed acoustic guitars, some accordion, some violin, percussion of all kinds, and of course the conquer all vocals of Eugene Hutz – these are the things that essentially define Gogol Bordello, and while the sound is distinctive enough to avoid many bands trying to copy them, just because they’re one of the more original bands out there these days doesn’t give them the right to write the same songs over and over again with little to no regard for progression. I suppose you could say that “Trans-Continental Hustle” does feature a couple new facets to the Gogol Bordello sound. Producer Rick Rubin does push the band to slow things down a little bit on occasion, in contrast to the madcap energy most of their previous releases have had from start to finish. “Sun Is On My Side” is a nice momentary slow diversion on the first part of the record, and the delicately plucked acoustic guitar has a tenderness we don’t normally hear amid the fast-paced showmanship of the earlier stuff. “When Universes Collide” fares only slightly less well as a ballad, though Hutz’s lyrics and vocal performance are really what strike you as the loudness begins to build. There’s also a somewhat fascinating Brazilian influence that comes into play with songs like “In the Meantime in Pernambuco” and “Immigraniada (We Comin’ Rougher)”, which adds to the diversity just a little bit more than usual.
Though it remains enjoyable and fun and largely free-spirited, complete with tales of old and peasantry and hardship amid celebration, “Trans-Continental Hustle” feels mostly like a collection of tracks that have been pieced together from the band’s past efforts. The new bits and pieces only feel slightly unique to this album for the most part, and not all of them work anyways. And I can definitely tell you that the band has made a whole lot better songs on past records like “Gypsy Punks Underdog World Strike” and “Super Taranta!”. Both those albums had tracks like “American Wedding”, “Oh No” and “Immigrant Punk” which felt a lot like positive drive-by shootings in that they flew by and were gone before you knew it, but they stuck with you for so much longer. You still get the same sort of energy, along with enough crazed chanting from Hutz to make it wild, but most of the songs aren’t staying with me as well this time, and mostly make me think of previous Gogol Bordello hits that I like more. That being said, if you’re a Gogol Bordello fan, you need to own this album. You’ll continue to find that the band you love so much still does the same stuff you love so much. They’re still as madcap as ever, and I’m sure their live show is still a spectacle to behold, even if you’re not a fan. For those of you who’ve not given a Gogol Bordello album a try, I suppose considering this is their first for a major label might mean that with their popularity on the continued rise, now might be the time to give them a whirl. Yes, their back catalogue is better, but “Trans-Continental Hustle” is by no means a bad introduction to the band. It is generally a great snapshot detailing exactly what these gypsy punks are all about. This may be novelty music, and it’s certainly not for every mood or disposition, but if you enjoy emotional catharsis and fun as much as I do, you’ll find plenty to love with the new Gogol Bordello record.