Since music is said to be the universal language, it should come as no surprise that many hidden treasures come from all around the globe. And with import/stateside release schedules fluctuating with reckless abandon, it's easy to overlook some intriguing music. The focus this time is definitely international, but at least one American act sounds foreign enough to make the cut.
Tamburitza! Hot String Band Music from the Balkans to America (Arhoolie Records) is a wildly entertaining double-disc set of music recorded by Eastern European immigrants living on the East Coast between 1910 and 1950. Featuring 48 songs sung mostly in Serbo-Croatian, the quality (both in sound and performance) is remarkable. Fans of Devotchka will find a treasure trove here, as the names of songs and performers are almost as good as the music. Check out Dusan Jovanovic or Kuharcev Mjesovita Zbor as they lead quartets and full bands engaging in tasty licks on myriad stringed instruments. Decidedly akin to jazz, true lovers of the esoteric will find plenty of good fishing in these unusual waters.
Pole is the group name for Stefan Betke, a Berlin-based mixer and producer. Steingarten (Scape Records) is his sixth full-length release, and it's a fascinating hybrid of cold electronica and avant-garde pop. In the past, Betke has used elements of hip-hop and dub to enliven his minimalist techno, but Steingarten is a calculated retreat toward beautiful simplicity. Songs such as "Warum" and "Winlekstreben" feature loops that occasionally create a groove while melodies serve as slight distractions from the ever-present but never off-putting drone. Pole's music constructs a world all its own, a captivating manipulation of unexpected sounds.
Les Breastfeeders are a Montreal garage-rock quintet that could show their American counterparts a thing or two about the inherent power of distortion. Les Matins de Grand Soirs (Blow the Fuse Records) can be roughly translated as "Mornings of Great Evenings," and there is simply not a clunker in the entire batch of 14 cuts. Whether it's the all-out assault of "Viens Avec Moi" or the more restrained and epic "Chanson Pour Destinée," Les Breastfeeders succeed in channeling the best noise of the '60s (think 13th Floor Elevators or the Seeds) with a powerfully modern je ne sais quoi.
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Say What You Want to Say to Me (Fish the Cat Records) is the sophomore effort from Spanish for 100. Hailing from Seattle, this spry quartet plays something analogous to Fugazi tackling the Merle Haggard songbook. Fractured, intense and somehow melodic, this is country-tinged rock of an unusual breed, like Wilco if Tweedy wasn't always intent on making an artistic statement. Check out "Sangria" and "Quick as a Shutter" for some adrenaline-charged, hick-infused post-punk, complete with an authentic drawl.