Balkan Gypsies and Science Fiction Punks


I made my most recent music purchases a few months back. I’ve finally gotten enough listens in to give them a mention here.

Mahala Rai Banda, Mahala Rai Banda (2004): I don’t know much about this group; they were a shot-in-the-dark world music purchase I stumbled across while sampling random music at the iTunes store. This Romanian ensemble plays tight, energetic “Balkan gypsy” music, heavy on brass, strings, and accordion, which also seems to blend in some Latin and Middle Eastern influences. It’s enjoyable, frantic stuff; the soundbites felt a little closer to my turf than the complete songs, but it’s still a nice injection of stylistic diversity to my collection.

Tub Ring, Secret Handshakes (2010): I had the good fortune of seeing these guys play in Iowa City several years ago; easily the best onstage showmen I’ve ever seen live, especially Rob Kleiner, who used his keyboard not only as an instrument, but as a surfboard and possibly a defibrillator during the set. These guys got on my radar in the early 2000s, a postmodern punk mash-up, part Mr. Bungle, part Blue Meanies. While Secret Handshakes isn’t quite as good as their earliest albums in my book (Drake Equation and Fermi Paradox are classics), it’s definitely a step up from its immediate predecessor, The Great Filter, which I found disappointing. On the other hand, the sensibility is much more polished than the early days. They’re not quite as unpredictably po-mo as they used to be, but they’re still creating distinctive stuff, metal-infused synth-punk with occasional lounge, pop, and Middle Eastern influences. “Bird of a Different Color,” “Gold Finger,” “Feed the Rapture,” “Optimistic,” “Chronic Hypersomnia,” and “Tip of My Tongue” stand out for me, and even the songs that don’t work tend to try some interesting things. Nice to see these guys are still around!

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