Boban Markovic Orkestrar/Warsaw Village Band

The popular image of Eastern European folk--insofar as one exists--does not bode well. Fat men mewling drunkenly over wheezing accordions...lanky-haired perestroika relics in John Lennon glasses...not pretty. And in the homelands of both Boban Markovic's Serbian-Gypsy brass army and Polish folk-punks Warsaw Village Band, reality has often been even worse. In Serbia, a wacko neo-fascist genre called "turbo-folk" enjoyed a Milosevic-era vogue. Poland's Communist regime perfected "fakelore," an empty-headed concoction of ye olde kountry klichés and proletarian twaddle.

These albums pulverize stereotype and rescue music from political prison with the simplest weapon around: volume.

Boban Markovic is apparently the don of Serbo-Gypsy music's Coppola family. His son Marko is a champion horn player, and together they orchestrate a furious storm of brass and rhythm. Bred down in the lands where Balkan, Germanic, Gypsy and Turkish traditions mingle, Markovic's sound is a mongrel yard-dog: Spicy-hot lines of Arabic melody ride oompah-ing Austrian beats; Serbian wails rip across the sky. Take that, cultural purists!

Unlike Markovic, who directly inherited his region's music tradition, the Polish kids in Warsaw Village Band had to dig theirs up. They learned an array of near-extinct traditional string and percussion instruments, and three female vocalists taught themselves "white singing," a scream used by Polish shepherds in days of yore. Coupled with heathen thunder from the band's two-man drum corps, this Slavic shriek turns pastoral polka tales of country weddings into hair-raising witch-summonings. Like the Markovic family, the Warsaw Village Band isn't just reviving ancient sound out of the goodness of its heart--it is determined to rock in the process. (Zach Dundas)

The Hold Steady

At first glance, little has changed in the story box held by the Hold Steady's Craig Finn. Before Lifter Puller split in 2000, Finn made critical waves leading the New Wave-singed art-punks, inventing an after-hours world of decadent characters like Night Club Dwight and the Eyepatch Guy. The stories were all told through the rifling speak-sing of his verse. And what verse it was. Finn could write his way out of a nightclub packed with degenerates and then write himself right back in for another beer.

Finn once again trudges those sticky floors with his latest band, the Hold Steady. On the chugging rocker "Barfruit Blues" from the band's debut, The Hold Steady Almost Killed Me, Finn sings, "She said it's good to see you back in a bar band, baby/ I said it's great to see you still in the bars."

But it's not all the same. Finn, along with LP-bassist-turned-classic rock-ready guitarist Tad Kubler, is playing with a new sound and a new cast of fictional characters, like Hard Corey (who, of course, is "really into hardcore"). But these characters are just drifting through Finn's stories, which are now shored up by thick rock riffs. It's odd to hear Finn spit words without mentioning LP mainstays. But there is not enough room on a single album for Lifter Puller's endearing novelty and the Hold Steady's razor-sharp observation, social dissections and brutal rock guitar. By choosing the latter, Finn and company have made the most brilliant rock record of this young year. (Mark Baumgarten)


Boban I Marko: Balkan Brass Fest


The Hold Steady Almost Killed Me
(French Kiss)

People's Spring
(World Village)