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There’s a good reason why Gogol Bordello have been at the forefront of gypsy punk music for much of their nearly 15-year existence. After his family was forced out of their Kiev home following the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, the band’s frontman, Eugene Hütz, spent the next five years jumping from refugee camp to refugee camp. Hütz was exposed to people from all sorts of Siberian, Armenian, and Jewish backgrounds along the way, and he has proudly worn his multi-cultural influences on his sleeves ever since. These influence later came together when he formed Gogol Bordello with a mix of Eastern European violins, Latin accordions, punk guitars, and thick, Ukranian-accented vocals that is rarely seen anywhere else. Together, Gogol Bordello present themselves as global citizens defiantly seeking to unite all peoples and cultures, and with the release their sixth studio album, Pura Vida Conspiracy, last month the band hasn’t faltered in their transnational aspirations one bit.
Gogol Bordello triumphantly mark their return by beginning Pura Vida Conspiracy with “We Rise Again.” This opening cut sets the tone with fast bursts of energy, soaring violins, and lyrics that boldy declare, “Borders are scars on the face of the planet” and attempts to blast away those borders with mixed influences. Especially when Hütz throws in an all-Spanish verse that repeats this creed. The following track, “Dig Deep Enough,” tries to inspire listeners to continuously push forward until they reap the fruits life has to offer. A very appropriate way to get things started on the album.
Then comes Pura Vida Conspiracy’s double-sided lead singles, “Maladrino” and “Lost Innocent World”. The first of these songs, “Maladrino,” starts off as a heartfelt acoustic ballad, and quickly picks up the pace when the song shifts time signatures and sees most of the band jumping in on the second repetition of the chorus. The song briefly returns to its acoustic mood until it reaches the chorus again and goes full throttle right up until the end. It’s a testament to Gogol Bordello’s versatility that they can change modes so often and still maintain “Maladrino”’s enduring and confident spirit throughout. “Lost Innocent World,” on the other hand, sees Hütz returning to his homeland only to find that things are not as well as he remembered. Hütz mourns this fond past and later reminisces some of his nomadic experiences in “Gypsy Auto Pilot.”
The next song, “It Is The Way You Name Your Ship,” is a seemingly more lighthearted pirate jaunty that tries to demonstrate how the fate of any endeavor is dependent on having a clearly defined goal right from the onset. Otherwise it runs the risk of being taken over by those who take power and steer things off course in dangerous directions. This leads to the kind of disappointment expressed in “The Other Side Of Rainbow,” a song about how something that looks favorable on the surface doesn’t always turn out that way. However, despite a chorus that emphasizes such false promises with the line, “I’ve seen the other side of rainbow / It was black and white,” it’s still has an encouraging message about letting go of heavy burdens and carrying on even when things look dark.
Pura Vida Conspiracy even features a couple love-hate love songs back-to-back. The first of these, “Amen,” tells a tale of two conflicted lovers who try to avoid each other, but in the end just can’t stay away. The call-and-response of the chorus, in which almost every line sung by Hütz is met with an “amen,” even suggests it’s a pairing that’s simply meant to be. The second love song, “I Just Realized,” is a Latin acoustic ballad with subtle male and female harmonies expressing an attraction that Hütz cannot resist, even though he strongly wishes he could.
Later, Hütz goes mostly solo with an acoustic guitar on Pura Vida Conspiracy’s final number, “We Shall Sail.” “We Shall Sail” a contemplative track explaining how life is only what you make of it, stating in the chorus, that “Nothing in this life is good or bad / It’s we who dress it up as happy or sad.” It’s a fine ending that encourages listeners to look back on the multi-cultural journey Gogol Bordello takes them on in Pura Vida Conspiracy. However, Gogol Bordello also leaves listeners with an additional surprise, but let’s just say it takes things in the complete opposite direction.