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Album Review: Pura Vida Conspiracy – Gogol Bordello

The first time I heard Gogol Bordello I wasn’t ready for it.

It was about a year and a half ago; I was in the car with my older brother, his wife, and my 9 month-old niece. We were listening to The Mysterious Production of Eggs, all of us singing along and bobbing our heads, my niece smiling in her car seat.  Eventually we got to the end of the album and my sister-in-law popped the CD out of the disc drive.

“Alright, what’s next?” she asked.

“Gogol,” was my brother’s one word response.

I groaned.  I love my brother and his wife, but they are kind of the grungy-hippie type (they’d happily agree) and I never know exactly what to expect from them.  My brother had been talking about Gogol Bordello for years, but for some reason I got it into my head that the group would be weird, I wouldn’t like it, and that it would be an assault to my ears.  In some ways I was right.

My sister-in-law ignored my grumbling and popped in Super Taranta! (an album that I still haven’t heard the entirety of).  I made it halfway through “Wonderlust King” before I begged them to switch to something else, claiming that I just wasn’t in the mood for that type of music (although you really can’t confine Gogol Bordello into a ‘type’).  My brother sighed and said “OK, just let this song finish.”

It was then that I looked to my niece.  Let me tell you I had never seen the kid so happy.  She was smiling and kicking and waving her arms around, imitating her mom and dad who were essentially doing the same.  What did this 9 month-old baby girl hear in this music that I didn’t?

So let me take a break real quick here.  You may be asking yourself “why is this Gogol infant reviewing their new album? He’s never even listened to a full album of theirs before!  Even his baby niece has heard more of their music than he has.”

The reason is because I finally get it.  I finally get the craze surrounding these guys; I finally hear what my brother, his wife, and my baby niece have been hearing all along.

I can say with relative ease that I have never heard music that is anything like Gogol Bordello’s new album Pura Vida Conspiracy. (Listen to the album, streaming here on Pitchfork, as you read!)

The album begins with “We Rise Again,” a track full of fast past drumming and jangling guitar riffs (as well as some frenetic fiddling), with a theme of using alchemy to mend the “scars on the face of the planet” that are the borders dividing the land into nations.

Next up is “Dig Deep Enough,” which is fraught with, to my untrained ear, is the epitome of the Eastern European sound that front man Eugene Hütz frequently mentions as one of the things that he most hopes to share with the Western world through his music.

A taste of a mandolin, shifts between slow tempo ballad and driving punk exuberance, a conclusion composed of “way yo ho hos;” “Dig Deep Enough” is what I now think of when I hear Gogol Bordello.  It’s at times a head-banger and at times a lilting blueprint for beauty that makes me nostalgic for an Eastern Europe that I’ve never seen but that my Latvian blood remembers.

Seriously, that kind of sentiment is what Gogol Bordello brings out in people.^

It’s fantastic.

The following songs are “Maladrino,” the first listen of the album back in May, and “Lost Innocent World,” the dancey-punk first single that I can’t get out of my head (in a good way).  You can’t help but sing-shout along with Eugene and the rest of the band’s vocalists for chorus and the repeating “dah-dah-daaaahs.”  I won’t say much else about these two songs other than they are solid first listens and a good place to start.

It is with “It Is the Way You Name Your Ship,” “The Other Side of the Rainbow,” and “Amen,” that the lyrics of the album begin to turn decidedly introspective.  “Lost Innocent World” and “Maladrino” also certainly have some aspects of Eugene’s personal musings, but with this trio of songs he really bares his thoughts on life, death, one’s soul, love, and the way to a freedom that I interpret more as a personal freedom rather than a literal one (such as one from oppression or from slavery).

The emotions of these three songs resonate with me, particularly “Amen,” which is one of my favorite tracks on the album.  They are more centered on the human in relation to those he/she interacts with and cares for rather than on injustices and political failings.

“I Just Realized” comes next, kind of a sleeper song with Latin-like roots and more moments of quiet than on any other track.  It is good, but not the most noteworthy or distinctive.  The track serves as kind of a break, focusing on a passionately jealous and obsessive relationship.  Its simplicity in lyrics, theme, and sound make it the perfect bridge between the greatness of “Amen” and the bouncy anthem of nostalgia that is “Gypsy Auto Pilot.”  It is an album song, not a standalone like so many others on Pura Vida.

“Gypsy Auto Pilot” rocks.  Plain and simple.  Listen yourself to see what I’m saying.  Love the lyrics, love the sentiment, love the cymbals moving the song along ‘tsk’ by ‘tsk.’

“Hieroglyph,” the tenth track on the album, is the only song whose lyrics in the booklet in the CD case are not in all caps throughout the song.  The rest of the lyrics (besides the odd word or two) are completely capitalized.  That means something.  The simple refrain, “I’m hieroglyph of love,” adds to that meaning.  I don’t know what it means, but there is a noticeable lack of shouting that works well with the seemingly pained honesty in the timbre of Eugene’s voice and also in his words.  It is different and it is a welcome surprise toward the end of the album.

“Living and loving/The rest is insane” captures the essence of “John the Conqueror” perfectly.  The rest of the lyrics in the song simply accentuate the concept contained in the chorus.  With this penultimate song, Gogol Bordello jumps right back into familiar territory, before ending with the ten-minute quirk that is “We Shall Sail.”

The final song is composed of four parts.  First, Hütz sings for three and half minutes with only the, at times dissonant, twang of his acoustic guitar for accompaniment.  Next is almost exactly four minutes of silence, which feels like the end of the album.

However, the silence is eventually broken by Eugene creepily whispering some story about an Argentinian girl that he made jealous by flirting with her sister.  Underneath his whispers is guitar that wouldn’t be amiss at the end of “Nervous, Sad, Poor…” off of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s F♯ A♯ ∞.

As if it that wasn’t bizarre enough, the song then explodes into something more metal than anything else with Eugene repeating, “there ain’t no (?) jealous sister” (the lyrics aren’t included in the booklet).  It comes off as the band saying “Hey, we’re Gogol Bordello, we’re going to do what we want and what we want to do is play a little metal.”  It’s awesome.

“We Shall Sail” and Pura Vida Conspiracy end with an epic electric guitar solo.  And yet somehow that solo and Eugene’s yelp at the end allow for the album to loop flawlessly.  “We Rise Again” begins and the journey resumes from the beginning.

Pura Vida Conspiracy’s intermingling of elements of both punk and melodic soul searching is probably the leading reason for why I love it so much.  It is a punk album at times, in style and in content, but it also has moments, whether entire segments of the album or a single chord progression in a song, where it transitions into something decidedly deeper than a rallying cry.  It makes me feel.  It makes me want to rise up.  It makes me want to look within.  But beyond that it makes me want to listen to Gogol Bordello.

As for why I suddenly “got it,” why I have gone from wanting to turn Gogol off instantly to wanting to listen to them constantly, I have no idea.  All I know is that I love them, even the songs that I used to hate before.  Don’t make the same mistake that I did; listen to Gogol Bordello.  You won’t regret it.

For more about Pura Vida Conspiracy check out these videos:

Pura Vida Conspiracy (Part I)

Pura Vida Conspiracy (Part II)

To be convinced to go to their show on Sunday, July 21st at Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel, watch their performance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon here.

Lastly, tickets to the show on Sunday are available here.



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