While Solidaritine on its face doesn’t strike as a particularly significant album for Gogol Bordello—now nine albums in, they’ve become more of a consistent punk presence than anything else—it’s got a power inside that shouldn’t be ignored. It’s an album about “uniting the people of goodwill,” as frontman Eugene Hütz describes it, contextualised through the conflict in his homeland Ukraine that tacitly makes this Gogol Bordello’s weightiest album in a while. At the same time, the message of solidarity and power is one that’s kept explicit; it’s not an album overburdened by the bleakness surrounding it, as Gogol Bordello are too inherently raucous and precocious to be as such.
Thus, Solidaritine is another welcome shot of life that Gogol Bordello tend to excel at, where the punk philosophy and attitude mixed with the richness and colour of Romani music makes a blend that still sees them in a class of one. They remain refreshingly diverse within it too, no doubt in part to the deliberately scruffy and bedraggled execution that boosts their fluidity even further. Shot Of Solidaritine is one of the album’s most straightforward punk notes, but it’s never quick to settle down evidenced by elements of ska-punk on Focus Coin; hulking oompah lurches on a cover of Fugazi’s Blueprint; and glistening folk-punk on Era Of The End Of Eras. That’s all within the first run of tracks too; Solidaritine isn’t short for gems all the way down of varying styles, like Knack For Life’s ramshackle barroom stalk or the undisputed banger that is Fire On Ice Floe.
It’s all roughly on par with Gogol Bordello’s standard as far as where they’re willing to go, but that’s not a bad thing. As previous stated, they’ve pretty much got as much room as they need within their sound to do what they want, a key reason why Solidaritine doesn’t feel as deeply entrenched or railroaded by the ‘new album from old punks’ stigma. They’ve got a lot more scope to work with, offered by the violins and increased use of textured guitars and percussion, the European folk flavour that ultimately defines them without losing too much of its coolness or freshness. Building on that, the street-level vision still comes through in spades; the busking vibe given off continues to prove consistently entertaining, just for how lively it feels when the harmonies and performances can afford to be a bit looser. It gets the most out of Hütz‘ voice, as his big, broad accent reshapes these words and lyrics with a lot more character and truly unique panache.
It’s just really good, propulsive stuff, in-keeping with Gogol Bordello’s stylism and continuing to do plenty with it. What’s more, there’s so much about it that emphasises its pushed sense of perseverance and stoicism in the face of adversity, the sort of message from a melting-pot, multicultural group that really makes this albumshine. On top of a fun factor that supersedes most punk simply by design, Solidaritine is yet another solid example of why Gogol Bordello’s pedestal in punk is so deserved, and why they’re yet to be even remotely shaken from it.
For fans of: Flogging Molly, Dubioza Kolektiv, Dropkick Murphys
‘Solidaritine’ by Gogol Bordello is released on 16th September on Cooking Vinyl.
Expert In A Dying Field
The Beths come from an indie-rock scene that can often be smothered in over-hype without due cause, so it’s nice that they tend to be among the exceptions by actually justifying some of theirs. That’s perhaps most applicable to 2020’s Jump Rope Gazers, an album of the year contender for some that wasn’t up to that lofty height, but did more in its style and compositional directness to at least stick its landing more firmly. If anything, Expert In A Dying Field surpasses even its predecessor to be where that excitement should be going, as a tighter form of The Beths curtailing into pop-rock and power-pop gloss and hookiness, while the DIY-indie ethos remains untouched.
That is to say, Expert In A Dying Field isn’t quick to abandon its roots, as much as augment them a bit more. As per indie standard, it’s very small-scale and unassuming in tone, with a lot of the sawdust guitar tones and negative space to both exemplify and amplify that. The Beths have always found better ways to make that work though, and this is no exception. It’s not as outwardly raggedy for a start, an influence of the pop-rock that can definitely be felt in Silence Is Golden and Head In The Clouds that gives them some noteworthy brawn. The taut edges are strong too, as they bring forth the jangle of Your Side and a borderline emo-pop streak on When You Know You Know that does a lot for Expert In A Dying Field’s sense of variety. It’s simply a more fulfilling album when the breadth of ideas is clearly widened without marginalising where The Beths have often gone right in the past.
It speaks to how solid the creative interweaving on Expert In A Dying Field is when, even without a true standout, it seldom dips or stumbles. Elizabeth Stokes is definitely a factor in its favour there, not only with her distinct New Zealand accent that’s a seamless fit with indie-rock’s sweeter mid-register, but in how little lyrical flourishes just sit so well and further accommodate an approachability that’s so prevalent. It stands alongside the pensive feel the album wears as its own, as Stokes ruminates post-breakup on the person that she is now, more with reflectiveness than melancholy or contempt. It’s all just nicely put-together and mature without being toothless, and gives the lyricism a chance to breathe outside of the entangled barrage that tends to bloat albums of this ilk rather severely.
That’s not an issue with Expert In A Dying Field; it’s poised and composed without lacking substance, with sonic cues that, in both performance and production, have a consistently good grasp on how to feed into that. It probably wouldn’t be a stretch to call it The Beths’ best album honestly, for how greatly in builds on established ground without losing any kind of stability. Definitely a hidden gem here, as a smart, infectious slow-burn that offers plenty with every listen.
For fans of: Charly Bliss, Camp Cope, Remember Sports
‘Expert In A Dying Field’ by The Beths is released on 16th September on Carpark Records.
The Darling Fire
If you want evidence of how the influence of Spiritbox continues to permeate, look no further than The Darling Fire. Okay, perhaps that isn’t completely fair when they’ve been on this more atmospheric alt-metal path since their debut in 2019, but Distortions is a conspicuous tweaking of ther formula in the exact direction that’s proven to blow up in the past couple of years. That’s a fine enough undertaking in itself to try, though just like how Dark Celebration was more commendable in its ideas than how it presented them, Distortions ends up similarly stymied.
Perhaps it’s a case of lack of experience with music like this—The Darling Fire’s members all draw their clearest roots back to hardcore and emo bands, most notably with Further Seems Forever and Shai Hulud—which definitely has credence in Distortions lacking a lot of necessary dynamism. The diet-Spiritbox loftiness is one thing, but it struggles to pay off with any equal excitement or forward movement. There’s an interchangeability here that doesn’t go unnoticed, as the heaving pace bellydrags along and the desire to hit Deftones’ pocket becomes clearer but less realised. The Darling Fire really struggle to balance the weight of their sound with any sort of varied palette, and that yields an uncomfortable, unsuccessful three-way cross-section between attempts at heaviness, elegance and trying to keep any sort of attention.
At least there are touches that strive for a little more, like the brighter, buzzier synths on Amber or Perigee, or the straightforward go a prog-metal in Legless that’s certainly appreciated. It’s also probably the most exsanguinated victim of production that leaches out the significant weight (not to mention being the final track to feel even more like an afterthought), though to their credit, The Darling Fire’s general makeup tends to cover those sorts of missteps. Rather, Jolie Lindholm can cover them, who’s undoubtedly the band’s ace in the hole as a vocalist for whom there are no complaints, when there’s so much composure and fluidity that singlehandedly elevates quite a bit of this material. She’s got a notably ethereal quality that’s fitting for exploring planes of reality blurred among dreams, nightmares and reality, more expressive and oft-impressionistic with a great handle on restraint.
Honestly, a weaker performer would probably put Distortions in far more turbulent straits; Lindholm is just that good of a stabiliser for an album that, otherwise, could be borderline directionless. She alone isn’t enough to negate Distortions’ main issues, mind; this isn’t an album that’s as exciting as it evidently wants to be, nor does it strike with anything close to the same efficiency. For material like this with actual expectation behind it now, it’s otherwise as middle-of-the-road as it gets.
For fans of: Deftones, Karnivool, Spiritbox
‘Distortions’ by The Dying Fire is released on 16th September on Iodine Recordings.
Words by Luke Nuttall