At the Carnival Eclectique
Gypsy Nomads, 2009
Heartbeats and thoughts. Pulses and arpeggios. Drums and guitar with brief hints of vocals. Such is the music of The Gypsy Nomads, “a New York duo” with decidedly international fl air. Their latest album, At the Carnival Electique, blends solid beats with fleeting flourishes, and while the results are playful and deceptively lightweight, the band's appeal creeps up on you and doesn't let go.
Comprised of percussionist/singer Samantha Stephenson and former hardcore string-man Scott Helland, the Nomads form part of the “Cabaret Punk” underground — that energetic hybrid of European Folk roots, Punk attitude, World Beat eclecticism, and traveling-player theatricality. Although their sound recalls HuDost more than, say, The Decemberists, Helland, and Stephenson boil some enchanting concoctions out of that mix.
Despite its title, At the Carnival… is not a live album. Instead, it’s a spare studio recording with a sharp production tone. The drums boom nicely through a selection of percussion instrumentals, while Helland’s guitars flicker like lightning or spill like liquid glass. Aside from “L’Horizon,” “The Celtic Sprite,” and “Oh Gypsy,” lyrics remain in short supply. That latter track (an alternative take on the old chestnut about fortune-tellers and their lovelorn clientele) is the album’s high point; Stephenson vamps it up just enough to keep the tone light without losing the tale’s potential sadness. Other songs — like “Mutiny in the Ranks” (a pirate tune which resembles Man Overboard channeling Jethro Tull) and “Ian McTroll” (an evil muppet’s homage to actor Ian McShane… or a sequel to Helland’s “Ogre Dance”) — employ snatches of vocals woven throughout otherwise instrumental music. The most effective blend of this approach comprises my favorite track, “The Celtic Sprite;” opening with a lovely excerpt from “Au Clair de La Lune,” the song becomes a bewitching trip through a phantasmal landscape. To me, it sounds like a theme from an inspiring (if imaginary) fantasy film.
While the instrumental approach makes this album less accessible than a typical rock record (which is in no way a flaw!), the Gypsies have offered up an enchanting earworm of sly appeal. Although many of the lyricless tracks blend together in my mind, there’s not a bum note to be found in this Carnival.
Four (out of Five) Broomsticks
Find out more in Witches&Pagans #20 - The Animal Issue