Album Review: Pura Vida Conspiracy by Gogol Bordello
Great, Based on 14 Critics
PopMatters - 90 Based on rating 9/10
True to their vow of a battle cry, Gogol Bordello keeps “coming rougher every time”. New album Pura Vida Conspiracy, their sixth, finds them at their most ragged and unhinged, the sound of collaborative anarchism distilled into its punchiest presentation yet. So distinct and inimitable their sound, the Gypsy punk commune recognizes there’s not much point in deviating from a working paradigm, yet at the same time, Pura Vida Conspiracy does show elements of growth factored into the mix, though those aspects might not be obvious on initial listens.
Three years after Gogol Bordello issued Trans-Continental Hustle, they deliver Pure Vida Conspiracy, an album that, while draped in their trademark Gypsy punk sound, pushes hard at the boundaries of their already abundant blend of Eastern European and Celtic folk, rock & roll, and dubby reggae traditions. All but one track on this set were recorded in the border town of El Paso, Texas by producer/engineer Andrew Scheps. The sounds from that complex place have woven themselves inextricably into the album's songs -- though the sweaty, drunken careening that lies at the heart of their party remains.
There are 101 reasons to love Gogol Bordello, only some of which stem from the quality of their musical output. Their recording and touring life is portrayed as a continuous explosion of joyous anarchy, with the band something of a law unto themselves. Whether or not this deliberately perpetuated mythology is true, the simple facts about the band are interesting enough.
As 2013 sees violent protests tear through the complex fabric of corruption from continent to continent, it’s thrillingly appropriate to be hit with the exhilarating, barricade-storming opener of Gogol Bordello’s newest album, fittingly titled “We Rise Again.” What Ukrainian firebrand Eugene Hutz lacks in vocal prowess, he again decisively makes up for in fervor and philosophical certitude. And Gogol Bordello’s incomparable brand of swaggering gypsy punk hasn’t lost a whit of its euphoric urgency. We predict a riot.
Gogol Bordello have been together as a band for nearly 15 years now, and true to their gypsy lifestyle, they’ve been touring nonstop almost that entire time. However, even people with the most affecting case of wanderlust begin to reexamine their choices after a while, even if only to remind themselves of why they do what they do in the first place. The band’s sixth studio album, Pura Vida Conspiracy, sees Gogol Bordello and frontman Eugene Hütz challenging themselves on their lifestyles by exploring their motivations for traveling around the world and singing gypsy punk songs, despite the fact that it maybe hasn’t been everything that they wanted it to be when they started their journey.
Eugene Hütz may appear of normal height and perhaps might be mistaken for an ordinary common being, if it was not for his brightly colored patchwork outfits and a wildness in his eyes which suggests that he clearly defies typical socialised norms. The lead front man for this 8 piece gypsy punk outfit is, it is safe to say, larger than life. He is credited for pioneering the gypsy punk genre and he fronts a massive ensemble (by punk standards) known as Gogol Bordello.
Well shucks, Gogol Bordello has done it again: Pura Vida Conspiracy, the gypsy troupe’s sixth studio album, is one more contagious collection of anthemic songs about lost love, freedom, oppression, and death. To date, they’ve strived to form a connection between cultures either through their ethnic roots or foreign dialect, but now there’s a softer side to Bordello, one that bypasses face-palming facts and ruminates on life’s brevity and the importance of change. It’s a reinvention of sound for Eugene HÃ¼tz and crew, featuring everything from sonic-speed polkas to tender, soul-searching melodies.
Since his arrival on American shores in 1993, Ukrainian singer Eugene Hütz has been cranking out explosive albums with his band Gogol Bordello that crossbreed musical traditions from all over the globe, while growing a maniacally devoted fanbase through live shows that marry sweat-and-blood punk with cabaret-style costumes and atavistic dance breakdowns. The band has established itself as the industry standard for melting-pot rock: Any given song on their latest effort, Pura Vida Conspiracy, can pivot from a honky-tonk two-step to a Celtic fiddle line or a mariachi jingle in a matter of seconds. At his most insightful, Hütz inhabits character tropes—the immigrant outsider, the wandering gypsy—through exaggeration and burlesque comedy; he retains certain broken-English touches even after having lived in the States for a decade, and songs such as “Malandrino” find the singer self-styling as a gypsy foundling “born with singing heart.
Punk's always been something of an us vs. them proposition: you're either the one getting sneered at, or the one doing the sneering. Even when their music's faltered, self-styled gypsy punks Gogol Bordello have always found a way to make punk's tricky division problems work in their favor: when it's borders-- and the people who keep them in place-- that separate us, that "us" gets to be quite a crew.
"Borders are the scars on face of the planet," Ukrainian-born singer Eugene Hütz exclaims on his band's sixth album. That's been Gogol's philosophy for a decade, as they've mixed gypsy folk, punk rock and other global-pop strains with all-inclusive rabble-rousing politics. There's a Spanish rap on "We Rise Again," while "Dig Deep Enough" sets Russian fiddles and distorted guitars against a reggae pulse.
A long-time listener might be apprehensive about Gogol Bordello's sixth album, and there's a song title on Pura Vida Conspiracy that sums it up perfectly: Gypsy Auto Pilot. Nearly 15 years after they emerged on New York's Lower East Side, the Ukrainian Gypsy punks' signature mix of high-energy party rock with traditional Eastern European folk music has developed such a dedicated cult following (including Madonna), there's no real motivation for them to evolve beyond it. It's true, Pura Vida isn't groundbreaking.
It’s hard to believe it’s been seven years since Gogol Bordello briefly nudged the mainstream with the pleasing lunacy of ‘Start Wearing Purple’, but in case you thought the gypsy-punk outfit were a one-trick pony, think again. With ‘Pura Vida Conspiracy’ the band, led by the scarily exuberant Eugene Hutz, release their sixth studio album and it’s a charming and invigorating release of gypsy-folk rhythms, punk spirit, positive philosophy and muddled syntax. With the album’s title (and theme) deriving from a Spanish slang phrase for ‘pure life’, Gogol Bordello come across as a motley, multi-ethnic pirate crew sailing to all corners of the globe, bringing their riotous way of life to all who’ll listen, with the mad-eyed Hutz steering the ship.
Gypsy punk mayhem-maker Gogol Bordello has built a following through indefatigable touring since 1999, when Ugene Hütz, a political refugee from the Ukraine, founded the group. Fans won’t find anything unexpected on “Pura Vida Conspiracy,” their sixth studio album. The fusion of Balkan/Gypsy music with loud punk and Latin balladry does not sound as fresh as it did on “Super Taranta!” (2007) or even on the Rick Rubin-produced “Trans-Continental Hustle” (2010).
Six albums on, the gypsy rock collective known as Gogol Bordello offer up their most inspired set yet, a rallying cry against complacency that urges its listeners to embrace the populism that they’ve always espoused. The title, Pura Vida Conspiracy — which translates from its Spanish slang as “pure life” – further affirms their universal, multicultural ethos, a template that creates its core from seemingly disparate Latin and eastern European elements. Yet, the ferocity in their delivery and the sheer sweep of their eager entreaties create an anthemic exposition, resulting in a series of songs that make it impossible to sit still.