Everything old is new again, especially when it comes to music. While the eternal search for the future of music goes on, artists keep on looking to the past for sources of inspiration. The’80s, ’70s, ’60s and even ’50s have been mined for style for quite some time. It may not be “new” to take from the classics, per se, but when everything gets a little stale, going back a few years can, at least, make things a little different. But to be really revolutionary and different, at this point, you’d have to do something like cross indie rock with early 20th century Eastern European folk music.
Huh? Yeah, it sounds a bit crazy, but it’s not as bad an idea as you might think. Groups like Tin Hat Trio, Tarantula A.D. and Gogol Bordello have been mixing the East with the West for some time now, though they’re fairly unusual cases. Gypsy folk mixed with jazz, metal or punk rock can be amusing, but one of the most innovative bands to meld traditional Eastern European folk music with other, less likely bedfellows, is a band (surprise, surprise) from Brooklyn called Barbez.
Barbez aren’t as folksy as Tin Hat Trio or as out of control as Gogol Bordello. They are, however, unpredictable and thoroughly thrilling to listen to. Their second album, Insignificance is a baffling listen, but an invigorating one as well. Lead vocalist Ksenia Vidyaykina is a mystifying creature, bellowing operatic verse throughout the album in English, though it might as well be Romanian for how exotic the setting is.
Now, while this may sound a bit off-putting for less adventurous listeners, it’s not too far off from Nick Cave, PJ Harvey or Marianne Faithfull. But it is a lot more open and free. “As For the Little Grey Rabbit” is merely a spooky a cappella opener, while “Fear of Commitment” is a whirlwind rocker with Trail of Dead-like proportions of heaviness. “Song of the Moldau,” meanwhile is closer to folk music of some sort, played with theremin, mind you.
Though Barbez are a challenging and innovative group, they’re not the most accessible group in the world. It does take a little getting used to, and more ethnocentric types will probably dismiss it early on. But the more adventurous listeners, particularly ones who have a thing for deep throated valkyries, should seek this out. It may not be a “new” idea to mix the Old World with the New, but when it happens so infrequently, it would certainly appear to be.
John Zorn – The Big Gundown
Marianne Faithfull – Broken English
Weill/Brecht – Threepenny Opera
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.