It is absolutely bonkers, bananas, mad as a pheasant's wedding.
I'm sure you won't mind if, by way of introduction and maybe enlightenment, I can now quote some sleeve notes.
"Shukar Collective born in Romania from the meeting of new generation musicians with the Gypsy traditions of Shukar founders Napoleon, Tamango and Clasic. Shukar play usari music (usar means bear tamer or bear handler) using spoons, wooden barrels or darabouka to create a powerful and urgent sound that is at the same time emotional and soulful".
Right, bear that in mind will you?
For my part I can confidently say that I love this album. It is absolutely bonkers, bananas, mad as a pheasant's wedding. It has put a smile on my face this past month. Essentially it is a meeting of traditional Romanian Roma music and a crop of currrent, seemingly DJ Shadow obsessed Romanian deejays. The resultant mix is at turns, funny, complex (in the fusing of an essentially verbal, declamatory style of traditional music) with essentially more abstract soundscapes that trip hop and break beat create. The opener, Calling Tamango is a jewel, sparkling and fizzing like a top. You feel like the guy is giving you a right wigging for something (stealing eggs or nicking his Fedora) but that The second track The Wind opens in a more relaxed manner, a lonely sounding tract is wailed over a very relaxed beat. It sounds magical, very reminiscent at moments of My Life In the Bush of Ghosts. This sublimity, however, doesn't last long. Suddenly we are whisked off into some drum'n' bass maelstrom, the vocals sense this change and, in turn, get more and more furious. The stop-start nature of this track is it's greatest strength, the abrupt changes of tempo, which at some points is quiet, almost whispered, at others totally over the top, keep the listener on edge throughout.
Malademna is especially haunting; a midnight train ride at top speed. Balalaikas add to a feeling of rushing through Moldova, laden with contraband, dodging customs and border guards. Bloody fantastic. Gypsy Blooz is like something off a David Holmes LP, all spacey, dub-tinged and drugged. Taraf is another madcap chase over the mountains, goatherd's flutes and accordians adding a surreal touch to the bouncy trip-hop beat. An argument develops between the two sample voices, and what with the combination of flutes, balalaikas and breakbeat, you could be excused for wanting to lie down, it's so heady. My two favourite tracks on this album (and believe me its bloody difficult choosing two) have to be Oh, Mother, which is such an affecting, lonely lament set against a sparse backdrop of piano, pots and pans and Kraftwerk-style synths. It is a truly wonderful piece of music. The other, Disperae Romanes, is much harder and in some ways very merciless; a track with a hard edge that nevertheless floats in and out of your consciousness like a wraith in a dream. I'm sure this music is meant as a tribute or memorial to the ghosts of the thousands of gypsies persecuted throughout the centuries; it certainly feels very haunting and ethereal. It also disappears very quickly. Mention should also go to Verbal Fight as it is a wonderful sampled portrayal of two old guys arguing the toss in a pub. The verbal rythms inherent in (and exploited by) this track are outstanding.
Actually, with the use of that word I think I can draw this review safely to a close. In fact, I'll use it again. Outstanding. If dance music sounded like this all the time, I'd be a very happy chappy. A marvellous album, and an essential purchase.
Words: Richard Foster