Kultur Shock frontman Gino Yevdjevich lets his vibrato undulate in large waves, as if to swell his entire being in grandeur. The group is a polyglot bunch out of Seattle (members originally from Tokyo, Washington State, Bosnia, Bulgaria) that takes dance music of southeastern Europe from I’m guessing about 80 years ago—already a polyglot music, folk dance, Turkish, Mediterranean, Gypsy, urban violin kitsch, jazz—and adds layers of raucous comedy by way of the vocals: deliberately hammy guttural singing as if from a Saturday Night Live routine (oh those wacky neurotic Slavs and their feigned self-confidence!), so overemotive as to put emotion off at a distance. And like their New York City counterparts Gogol Bordello, Kultur Shock choose a contemporary New World setting: Where Gogol Bordello use dancehall and dub, Kultur Shock use an underpinning of funk and disco and clave but throw the whole pulsating mess into thrash metal, with power chords, precisely shrieking guitar solos, and tones that climb the scale by portentous half-steps. And, again like Bordello, Kultur Shock play like mothers, a heavy slam-your-body sound underlying all the yuks. And both bands, while chewing the ham and spitting out the scenery, sneak beauty in through the back door. The Bordellonians mix dub echoes into eerie Eastern melodies; with Kultur Shock, hardcore wailing takes on an Eastern cast, borne along by imaginary peasants in holiday garb, smacking their feet to the rhythm. Listening to two of the Slavs in Kultur Shock heaving melisma and vibrato at each other, I notice how exciting their voices get when pushed to the upper register. The overemoting is accompanied by so much complementary din that it comes across simply as emoting. Or so I feel now, at least. I can’t predict what I might think in five years, once I’m really used to it, whether the vocals will seem ridiculously mannered or warmly at ease.
On the Kultur Shock website, Yevdjevich refers to himself as the “World’s Biggest Egocentric,” which is actually self-deflating, as are his few forays into English, where he plays at being an Eastern European sleazebag. (A fake personal ad he recited on their previous album: “Young, tall, and handsome . . . Got a lot of money and a boat to go along with my house on the Adriatic coast. Big owner and big boner. Not really looking for anybody, just showing off, you know.”) Such self-consciousness probably traps them in the category “art band,” but this trap isn’t necessarily debilitating, since the music itself comes across as more voluptuous than distant. Given that most thrash metal is loud goo with a tough facade, and lots of Eastern European music is mid-volume goo with an expressive facade, the musicians risk drowning themselves in schmaltz; Kultur Shock’s yuk-it-up strategy cools the music down without calming it down, so you can hear the beauty within the gloop but still thrill to the over-the-top vocals. In the one all-English song, “Too Late to Fornicate,” Yevdjevich sings with deliberately fake sensitivity. This guy’s going to play the Eastern European sleazeball to the end: “I know how to say words like ‘fuck’ and ‘OK,’ in my broken English way/And I know that it’s sad, it’s pathetic, and it’s bad that I can’t communicate.” He runs the idea of its being too late to learn English into the idea of its being too late to fornicate. What, you can only fuck in a language you know fluently? The musical correlative is that you can only fuck/play/emote in a genre you know fluently. But here, these people are absolutely fluent and effective in a bunch of musics (folk, flamenco, Gypsy, metal, reggae), but in hamming it all up they pretend not to be fluent, as if they’re afraid of the emotional facility of all these sentimental stylings. They create a distance and then try to cross it, so they can have their love and yuk it up too.
Although they’re stuck in an art-music ghetto, I’d compare Kultur Shock to crunk, which gets party music out of similarly doleful minor-key melodies, has the same undertone of Euro-Eastern menace, and is fronted by similar blowhardiness and rah-rah. Nothing here ranks with “Damn” or “Get Low” or “Fuck ‘Em,” but nonetheless, you get a good party. Maybe I’m inferring too much from the fact that the lead singer endured the bombardment of Sarajevo, and the lead guitarist learned his chops in a Bosnian refugee camp, but there is a sense of dancing in a maelstrom.