Surreal, Original, Compelling Balkan Sounds from Montreal

by delarue

Briga, a.k.a. Brigitte Dajczer is a Montreal-based violinist who writes fascinatingly original, eclectic, biting Balkan-flavored songs. A protegee of Bulgarian violin legend Georgi Yanev, her album Contes: Turbo Folk Stories has a refreshingly raw, lo-fi spontenaneity, just like so much of the music being recorded on the fly in little studios across Macedonia and thereabouts. To call what she does surreal can be an understatement: this is a strange album. It also brings out the best in an inspired band that includes Alix Guéry on piano, keyboards and accordion, Tacfarinas Kichou on a museum’s worth of percussion, Marton Maderspach on fiddle and drums, and Jérémi Roy on bass. The whole thing is streaming at her Soundcloud page with a bunch of other goodies.

Some would say that Balkan music in general is strange, but that’s only if you come to it from a very different place. Most Balkan music is very purposeful, especially the more upbeat stuff: after all, it’s dance music. It stays on task, delivers a punch, sometimes several, then it’s over. Balkan music that wanders all over the place, like Briga’s, almost doesn’t make sense – yet that’s why her songs are so much fun.

The opening track is an instrumental titled Titanic, a dancing, terse minor-key theme with Riders on the Storm electric piano, electric bass and tabla, a psychedelically-tinged groove that ends with a bubbly trickle of percussion. By contrast, On the 40 is a bizarrely theatrical Balkan-flavored art-rock travelogue, its centerpiece being a wintry highway crash. From there the band segues into the rapidfire fiddle tune Vibor, which has elements of both the Balkans and Appalachia.

The accordion-driven Lela is a rather skeletal, lo-fi take on a vintage 20s/30s musette sound, followed by the exhilarating, rustic, rhythmically tricky instrumental Rutchenitsa. The point where the drums take over toward the end, completely out of the blue, adds an unexpected moment of sheer hilarity. After that, the band takes the sound forward into the present day with Duj Duj, a shapeshifting, contemporary Romany jazz romp, Briga’s edgy, nimble solos contrasting exhilaration with pensiveness, the bass running through an envelope effect for a woozy guitar tone.

Likewise, the slinky, wickedly catchy Makedonska shifts between blazing violin and dirgey accordion over a tricky, boomy goblet drum rhythm: this band may not be the tightest in their field, but they have an awful lot of fun. They follow that with the mystifyingly surreal, utterly macabre Moje Brat Mitko, a mashup of French chanson, morose Balkan pop and creepy psychedelic rock, fueled by ominously tremoloing funeral organ: in its own surreal way, it’s the best song here. The album ends with the equally menacing Night at the Officers Club, a Lynchian Balkan disco-funk narrative whose moral is that heavy artillery and heavy drinking might not be the ideal combination. The whole thing is one of the most disarmingly original and interesting albums to come over the transom here lately.