Seekers & Finders
As someone that considered themselves among Gogol Bordello’s biggest advocates during their years on SideOneDummy Records, I’ve admittedly fallen out of the loop in recent times. But a quick research session reveals that the American-based gypsy-punk pioneers have been quite busy over the past several years. The band seems to have shed the bulk of its original members (save for some stage performers, frontman Eugene Hutz and violinist Sergey Ryabtsev), been featured in a European Coke commercial, been sued by their former guitarist for missing remuneration, and released two additional full lengths on increasingly mainstream record labels like American Records and ATO Records.
Now on to their seventh full length, Seekers and Finders, the band has teamed up with reputable European indie label Cooking Vinyl. Those that may have lost touch with Gogol Bordello over the past few years will likely view Seekers and Finders as somewhat of a departure from the days of vibrant neon album covers. While Hutz built his musicianship on outrageous intercontinental mashups and frenetic energy, Seekers and Finders finds the troupe setting an increasingly grave instrumental and lyrical tone.
Lead single “Walking On the Burning Coal” is sure to polarize fans from the get go. For starters, the track saunters in at a low tempo with a comparatively barren instrumental soundscape. Composed of predictable riffs, a sullen atmosphere provided by Ryabtsev’s violin, and occasional chorus-bound trumpet blasts, the song’s intimate setting contrasts with Gogol Bordello’s typical stadium-raising gypsy-punk festivities. The lyrics reflect humble themes such as self-attainment and perseverance, providing a metaphoric glimpse into the personal journey of one of punk’s most extroverted personalities. Whether or not fans will agree with the song’s inclusion on a Gogol Bordello record rather than a Eugene Hutz solo project is entirely open for discussion.
That being said, a solid portion of Seekers and Finders makes good on the promise of delivering fast paced Eastern European influenced American-style punk-rock. Tracks like “Did It All,” “Break Into Your Higher Self” and “Love Gangster” are perhaps the most exemplary of a middle ground. The acoustic-infused, multilingual return to their Super Taranta-style roots, “We Know Who We Are,” serves as an energetic retrospective of the long running gypsy-punk ambassadors’ varied immigrant identities. It’s an unquestionable album highlight that bleeds into the lighter-waving swagger of piano-driven album closer, “Still That Way.” When the band is on target, they hit the mark like old times.
What may serve as a point of contention for fans is the three or four lounge-house tracks that feel more suited for a dimly lit cabaret than a gypsy-punk festival explosion. Take the title track, which has a nice little earworm of a chorus, but feels as if it is succumbing to the same pitfalls that Gogol Bordello once criticized in the now classic Super Taranta song, “American Wedding.” Eugene once questioned, “have you ever been to American wedding? Where’s the vodka, where’s marinated herring? Where’s the supply that’s going to last three days?” – but the metaphor that highlighted uniformity and drab sameness could now easily be redirected to Seekers & Finders songs “Familia Bonfireball,” “Clairvoyance,” and “If I Ever Get Home Before Dark.” This trio of tunes is particularly experimental and artful, but raise the question, should they have been included under the Gogol Bordello moniker? In fact half of “If I Ever Get Home Before Dark” is almost solely dominated by Hutz’s vocals and a single ticking drumbeat. Each listener will need to land on the answer for themselves, but it will be a tough sell.
Over a decade has passed since Gogol Bordello introduced North American to the concept of gypsy punk. The band’s legacy can be seen in the rise of other multicultural experiments like Brooklyn’s Butcher Knives, Vancouver’s The Dreadnoughts, and those on the other side of the Atlantic like Serbia’s Worldly Savages. But many of those which Gogol Bordello has inspired, have started to sound more like the Gogol Bordello of the past than Gogol Bordello does in today’s present. Don’t get me wrong, Seekers and Finders still features some very canonical examples of Gogol Bordello’s gypsy punk prowess, but the overall direction feels muddied – less clear in purpose then songs like “Immigrant Punk” once did. As a long time fan I really wanted to love Seekers and Finders, but ended up walking away with some nagging reservations.