Under Review: Gogol Bordello – Trans-Continental Hustle

Seeing as how their music is so instantly identifiable, it wouldn’t be hard for Gogol Bordello to slip into self-parody.  In fact, they often have, which has led to a joyous, if not always deeply rewarding series of albums.  While they’re best known for their opus Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike, Gogol Bordello have hardly ceased to play around with their sound in the five years since that album gave them their breakthrough.  One of the biggest changes impacting Gogol Bordello’s sound as of late was leader Eugene Hütz’ relocation to Brazil.  Though they’ve always been a musical mishmash of global influences, the band has usually stuck with a predominantly Eastern European style.  Gypsy and klezmer music have been mixed with reggae and punk to create a grimy, unshaven hybrid of east and west.  In writing material for Gogol Bordello’s new album, Trans-Continental Hustle, Hütz undoubtedly had his ear to the streets outside his Brazilian home.  The result is a typically fun Gogol Bordello record that, while nothing might leap out as vigorously as “Not A Crime” or “Start Wearing Purple,” contains a lot of clever and energetic performances.  The music of Brazil appears most commonly in Trans-Continental Hustle in the form of forró, a type of street dance music that is the South American equivalent to Gogol Bordello’s Balkan busking.  The trademark forró rhythm, which prominently features a jittery triangle, drives songs like “To Rise Above” and “In The Meantime In Pernambuco,” where Hütz dreams of sipping cashasa in the northern region.  Portuguese mixes in with Ukrainian and English in many of the songs, and Hütz’ cartoonish delivery helps the numerous languages all flow together.

Trans-Continental Hustle is Gogol Bordello’s first album for American Recordings and, unsurprisingly, was produced by Rick Rubin.  While I didn’t want that fact to distract me from the music, I couldn’t help but keep it in mind while listening to the record.  It’s not that Rubin is such a great producer that his fingerprints are all over Trans-Continental Hustle; it’s really quite the opposite.  Sure, a number of the stripped-down songs (“Sun On My Side,” “When Universes Collide”) recall the acoustic songs on Joe Strummer’s Streetcore, but Gogol Bordello’s sound is so strong that it can transcend what any star-powered producer can conjure.  Still, there are some misfires that can only be blamed on Hütz and his crew.  A handful of songs, namely “Break The Spell” and “We Comin’ Rougher (Immigraniada),” only stand out because their choruses are repeated ad nauseum.  I know that Hütz is a total ham when he’s onstage, but his enthusiasm on Trans-Continental Hustle occasionally comes across as a bit forced.  In the end, though, Trans-Continental Hustle lucks out by being more than the sum of its parts.  Perhaps that’s the point of all of Gogol Bordello’s music: it works best when enjoyed as a whole, and not picked apart into its individually unimpressive segments.  Hütz is a really smart guy and a hell of a musician, which makes it an even bigger shame that Trans-Continental Hustle, while pleasant,  simply isn’t that explosive.

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~ by E. on April 23, 2010.

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