Balkan Beat Box released their debut self-titled in 2006, proving that immigration truly isn’t all that bad: it produced one of the most original albums of the year. Formed from members of Gogol Bordello, the band was experienced with the New York scene, and capable of developing hybrids between polar opposite genres. While Gogol Bordello laced Gypsy-influences with Punk and Rock sounds, Balkan Beat Box mixes a Hip- Hop sensibility with instruments likely to be found in the Boban Markovic Orchestra than any other New York based act.
The unlikely crossover of a traditional Eastern sound and a progressive Western genre worked, and the self titled debut found critical acclaim, even helping Balkan Beat Box find their way on a tour supporting the Chassidic rapper, Matisyahu. Amiss touring and fanfare, Balkan Beat Box penned and recorded the successor to their self titled album “Nu Med”, released in in mid-May on JDub Records.
The sound of Nu Med is nearly indescribable. Take every stereotypical Eastern European instrument, every horn and drum you associate with the Balkans, throw it onto a hip hop beat, and then you’re halfway there. On top of this seemingly ridiculous backing beat will be a group of individuals rapping seamlessly from tongue to tongue, pausing to give the instruments time to shine.
Regrettably, Nu Med begins with an all-too-clichÃƒ© “intro” song titled “Keep’em Straight”, with the voice of an announcer shouting, “Ladies and Gentlemen” several times, finishing with a drawn out “Balkan Beat Box” then quickly the erupting into a chorus of horns, backed by a familiar drum beat, and cheers of the crowd.
The album continues into one of its highlights, “Hermetico”. It begins with a rapped verse, followed by horns on the verge of being irritating, but expertly navigates the razor edge between annoyance and amazment. All songs are multilayered. There may be one person singing, two different electronic sound effects, three percussion parts, four horns and barely audible minor effects simultaneously. Returning from the debut is the all too familiar sound of a rooster crowing.
Nu Med twists and turns, exploring ways to deliver influences from both sides of the Atlantic until it comes to another highlight, “Gypsy Queens”. Beginning with a drum beat and quickly moving into a quick chorus of horns, the song packs fierce intensity. Easily the most danceable tune to be found, “Gypsy Queens” shows the true talent of those behind Balkan Beat Box.
Now this multi-cultural extravaganza isn’t by any means for everyone. This is at best a perfection of the sound found on Balkan Beat Box, and by no means are there any radical new ideas found within this album. If you are searching for heartfelt, emotional lyrics wrenched from the mouth of a love- scorned man, then this is not your record. But if you are looking to expand your boundaries, looking to find horns that will steal your breath, pine for compositions to whisk your soul away to the Balkans, and leave your body behind, moving to the rhythm, then this is the perfect album for you.
1. Keep ‘Em Straight (Intro)
3. Habibi Min Zaman
5. Digital Monkey
8. Quand Est-ce Qu’on Arrive?
9. Mexico City
11. Joro Boro
12. Gypsy Queens
13. $20 For Boban
14. Baharim (Outro)