There are good sequels and bad sequels. A bad sequel will take whatever you loved about the first iteration and run it into the ground. It repeats the old formula without feeling free to improvise. A bad sequel is a scared sequel. A bad sequel has no sense of play. Electric Gypsyland 2 is a good sequel: a playful, explorative sequel that takes the basic idea from its predecessor and uses it as a foundation, not a restriction.
In both cases, Crammed has borrowed songs from its three core Roma bands (with the addition, to Electric Gypsyland 2, of one Frenchman named Zelwer who uses Balkan ideas in his dreamy compositions) and offered them up to the remixers. The first album was a dancing, rocking thing. It began with Bucovina Club turning Taraf de Haïdouks’ version of John Folkes’ “Oh Carolina” into a rowdy shout-out. You came into the album wanting to strut and wiggle and slap your hands together.
Electric Gypsyland 2 starts with a thump-a-thump marching stamp and quick, downward strokes from the Haïdouks’ fiddles, and for a few seconds of anticipatory complacence you think you’re going to hear another “Carolina” but no—this is not the dance-party Bucovina Club, this is the folktronica group Tuung. Tuung has misled you. The stamping dissolves into a rising mass of liquid bubbles and the strident introduction softens; the beat turns into the tickety-tack of a steam train puttering through the countryside. Everything becomes regressive and fairylike. They’ve named this reworked Haïdouks song “Homecoming”, and it’s an apt title. The music is shiny with nostalgia: you can almost see the shorn fields running past the train as it takes you home to your village. The straight lines of the fiddles frame this bucolic picture as if it were a painting.
This is where Electric Gypsyland 2 establishes a mood of its own. It has its moments of high energy but it is also quirky and contemplative, gentler than the first album. Several of the new remixers are willing to push the music even further than their predecessors did. We’re only a little way into the playlist when Animal Collective presents us with the strangest reimagining of the lot. The notes describe their “Oi Bori Sujie” as “quasi-shamanistic,” but this is shamanism by way of some melting effects that suggest both Ween and Björk. Part of the original song (from the Koçani Orkestar) slurs in and out until it sounds like a carousel surmounted by an Alpine yodel and insectoid clicking fills the gaps as if we’ve walked into a tunnel crawling with ants. The surprise wears off on the second or third listen, but it’s still marvellously bizarre.
Other remixers have surprises of their own. ShrineSynchroSystem introduces a kora on “Neacsu in Africa”, their tribute to Taraf de Haïdouks’ late fiddler Nicolae Neacsu; while Cibelle makes the Koçani Orkestar’s brass sound almost mariachi in “Maxutu”. Smadj wraps the same band in his customary blanket of wool, sublimating the drive of “Mi Bori San Korani” into swerving, surging effects and bringing in quanun and oud until the remodelled song is a fug of woozy aural perfume trailing away into a single clarinet. The Orkestar loses its edges and turns into a lamb.
Mahala Raï Banda comes in for some softening of its own when Nouvelle Vague does the usual Nouvelle Vague thing and reimagines “Morceau d’Amour” as a romantic chanson, with the Mahala’s singer Sorin Constantin carolling passionately while Marina Celeste lilts. Yurily Gurzhy and Friends take Zelwer in the opposite direction when they decide to isolate snatches of his “Soldier Tufaiev Gets Married”, kick the dreaminess out of them, and tuck them between jigging men who shout with gusto in Russian. Poor orphans, they’re not used to this harsh world.
A few of the other tracks are closer to the sound of the first album, closer to dance music, and this is a disappointment. It’s not that the tunes are badly made, it’s just that we’ve heard it all before, and after the revelation of Tuung we were eager for something new. One of these songs is playing as the album ends, leaving us less satisfied than we were at the start. Move on then, move on: there’s a bonus disc as well. Crammed has given us some of the original songs so that we can find out what the bands sounded like before the remixers took them apart. It’s a nice fillip, a layer of gravy on top of a sequel that is easily the equal of its elder. It might even be an improvement.
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// Notes from the Road
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