Saturday, 22 May 2010

Gogol Bordello - Trans-Continental Hustle

Eccentric is not the word for Gogol Bordello; it’s full-pitch, blood curdling insanity. No surprise that they’ve been invited to play the likes of Tate Modern and the Venice Beinnale - that they are, y’know, critically acclaimed - because this palpable madness manifests itself in music that is just plain interesting. Rough around the edges, honest but, above all, extremely interesting.

And for this, their fifth album, can you really imagine anything else? To the Lower East Side meets East European mix - which is already different enough from pretty much everything else in existence - Transcontinental Hustle adds a smattering of salsa. The clue is in the title; unable to shake the wanderlust from his gypsy blood, frontman Eugene Hutz has relocated to Sao Paolo. It’s clearly become a part of him, and any part of him is destined to become a part of his music. On ‘In The Meantime in Panambuco’, the guitar sounds distinctly Spanish, and a samba whistle over lyrics like "never did I fit the frame invented by the gringo", as well as referencing local firewater cachaca, completes the Latin look.

Just as much humour as ever, the record is often nothing less than sonic satire. It’s hard to hear it without imagining a heavily moustachioed Hutz hamming it up - somewhere between a polka and a pogo - on screen (see also: 'Start Wearing Purple' and 'American Wedding') or, even better, on the stage. And as with everything that’s slightly ludicrous, it can easily be loved: just try and keep a smile from your face as you listen.

For all its lightness, however, the sum of the parts feels like it means something. You may have to strain to understand quite what that something is at times, but it’s so heartfelt that it can’t be ignored. Throw away your throw away; this from the heart, to the heart. That something is this: at least in part, Hutz is on a mission to bring his much maligned Romani culture to a wider audience. And this dedication to the cause is just as obvious on their latest, with songs like 'Break The Spell': "Just because I come from Roma camp of the hill, they put me in a school for the mentally ill". Even when he complains "you love our music but you hate our guts", you definitely feel Hutz is having the last laugh.

For sure, there are moments when their tub thumper sounds become slightly strained; ‘Sun on My Side’ is as soft as they get and sombre gypsy-punk doesn't quite do it. Even the chorus seem muzzled; if you listen carefully you can almost hear the whole back line twisting and pulling at the leash. It’s fair to say Hutz's lungs work better turned up loud, much better when he belts it out with "frozen eyes, swelling black", as on ‘We’re Coming Rougher’, the track which follows. It’s certainly not singing, and it’s not quite shouting either, as always much of it is just strange sounds; incanting probably comes closest.

For the most part it sticks to that trusted voodoo formula and through Gogol Bordello they achieve another raucous record with summer in its heart, with life coursing through its full blooded songs. It’s natural born festival music, music for dancing, for head thrown back laughing. Music for losing your mind, music for life.

Over 13 tracks Transcontinental Hustle casts its spells, a record that fairly howls at the moon. It’s that mad girl with the glint in her eye; don’t attempt to understand her, just let her take you by the hand; go with it, and fall deeply in love. Let her cast her gypsy spell, you probably won’t come to any harm. It may make no sense but, really, have you any choice in the matter?

Cypress Hill - Rise Up

“In 1991 an artist in Compton picked up the debut album by Cypress Hill. What he heard blew him away; futuristic funk mixed with a die-hard dedication for a certain herb. This is the story of Cypress Hill…” The opening sample is intended to be a powerful reminder that Cypress Hill have been on the block for nearly two decades: but do we really need reminding or does their career – their story – speak for itself? And most importantly, do they still possess the power to blow us away?

The question becomes more urgent when you consider that not only does Rise Up come a full six years after 2004’s Till Death Us Do Part but is also their first record since being released from a contract with Sony and being signed to Priority Records by Creative Chairman, Snoop Dogg. Coming from a more suitable stable, and under the auspices of Gangsta No. 1, there are, therefore, high expectations of the kings of getting high.

To be sure, 20 years in the business has taught them the value of proper production and it all sounds well polished, in the Eminem mould. Perhaps, then, already a touch too commercial, but there are nevertheless some more soulful moments; the sample at the start of ‘Light It Up’ nods to that funk for which they were famous, and the track ‘Armada Latina’, featuring Pit Bull and Marc Anthony, gets right back to their roots. If not the production, it’s the content that is lacking.

The title track is definitely a head nodder, but it’s never hip hop. Featuring Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, it was always going to be Big, but it's his rock riffs which steal the show and it ends up sounding more like Rage Against The Machine feat. Cypress Hill. Apart from all that, invoking the Watts Riot of 1965 to paint a picture of modern day Los Angeles as a city "still on edge" merely to make your song make sense seems churlish, to say the least.

‘Carry Me Away’ - featuring Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda - is their big hip hop ballad, a confessional tearjerker of a track which features such soppy sentiments as “My mother was there for me every step of the way, she didn’t judge me she told me I’d win some day.” Unfortunately it’s just a bad pastiche of 'Stan' but without even employing a clever construction. It just splurges, and that splurge would feel more heartfelt if it wasn’t followed by a track titled 'Trouble Seeker' - a raucous little ditty featuring System of a Down’s Daron Malakian - which might as well be called ‘I Wasn’t Crying, I’ve Just Got Something in My Eye.’

It goes without saying that they still possess a die-hard dedication for that certain herb, and if you don’t smoke the reefer you shouldn’t go anywhere near this record; it will leave you colder than Cheech and Chong’s Arctic Adventure. The dope fiend duo actually make several limp guest appearances on the album and B-Real even opines “If Sendog’s Cheech, I must be Chong”. Quite. Any number of tracks celebrating sensei including 'K.U.S.H.', 'Light It Up' and 'Pass The Dutch', and whilst the latter comes close to fulfilling it’s destiny as a blunted smoking anthem, the rest just smacks of so much artifice, of marijuana make believe. For if they had truly been daily blazing as hard as they claim they’d be no more capable of producing an album so slick, so clinical, as Shaun Ryder is of constructing a coherent sentence.

So what is the story of Cypress Hill? These days it’s all a bit reminiscent of WWF; just as the stars of such aren’t wrestlers but athletes, recently Cypress Hill are just playing their part as performers. This is Hip Hentertainment, you know they’re not really hitting each other but it’s fun to watch. If your idea of entertainment is watching grown men in Lycra pretend to beat each other up then maybe you won’t mind listening to grown men – 20 years grown - pretending to be Gangstas. If hip hop has taught us nothing else it’s to keep… it… real, but Cypress Hill seem to have forgotten lesson number one. Hmm, must be all the shit they’ve been smoking…