Karikatura Plays Dance Music for the New York That the Corporate Media Doesn’t Want You to Know About
Karikatura‘s music is what happens when smart kids get together in a multicultural city. Their catchy, danceable blend of salsa, ska, reggae, funk, latin rock and soul, Romany and Russian music, is an indelible New York sound. It’s a stretch to imagine a band from Alaska having as diverse influences as this crew. And as much as you probably wouldn’t typically expect dance music to have excellent lyrics, Karikatura’s does, reflecting the unease of life in a city ravaged by gentrification and its consequences. Pretty much any oldschool New Yorker will find themselves at home in this band’s songs, notwithstanding how much originality and cross-pollination is going on. Karikatura are playing the album release show for their new full-length debut, Eyes Wide (some of which is up at their Bandcamp page) on June 1 at around 9 at Bowery Electric; cover is $10.
The band’s arrangements are deceptively spare. There’s always something interesting going on: Eric Legaspi’s dancing basslines, biting riffs from the alto sax and trombone, a ringing Dima Kay guitar lick, or a suspenseful percussion break. And nobody wastes notes. The album’s title track, a bracing latin reggae tune, sets the stage, frontman Ryan Acquaotta chronicling what happens when the real estate mob decides to take over a sketchy part of town: “With the luxury developments they’re packing in, propaganda that the neighborhood is back again, watch whoever is moving in after, blowing their cover.” And then the displacement of the people who call it home begins.
Likewise, Viennese Doors makes an intense, guitar-fueled anthem out of a dispirited urban picture: “Walkup, kitchen shower, dishes piled up, count the hours, killing time on dirty sofa, losing mind games over and over.” Get Together makes moodily tense, slow latin soul out of Walk on Wild Side changes, with multi-reedman Joe Wilson’s jazzy horn chart and a barrage of global warming-era disaster images. The band picks up the pace with the cynical, spot-on Coney Island Romany ska-punk anthem Brighton Beach, alto sax and trombone trading animated bars in a shady part of town run by an “immigrant citizen mafia government,” its buildings with both a “balcony oceanview” and a “basement workers’ room,” where the beach is “an undressed democracy.”
Someone gets an up-to-the-moment spin on the kind of tropical sounds the Clash were nicking on Sandinista: “Don’t want you wrapped up in ribbons, better naked in my honest opinion,” Acquaotta tells a girlfriend. On Bailarina, the band quotes the classic Moroccan freedom fighter anthem Ya Rayyeh in between verses about a guy halfheartedly trying to pick up a girl in a club. Stubborn works a spare, calypso-flavored groove, while NYC Hustle mixes elements of dancehall reggae and dub into a high-energy, psychedelic shout-out to immigrant dreams in the big city. Likewise, Acquaotta sings the gritty around-the-way anthem Soy Quien Soy in sardonic Spanglish, a latin funk tune with tinges of psychedelic cumbia, soulfully resonant trombone mingling with jangly guitar.
Ashes, with its loopy rhythms and unexpectedly fiery guitar interlude, looks at interior, interpersonal unease. Honey Bee sets a shuffling, syncopated clave tune over an altered Motown bassline. The vamping latin soul song Death or a Hurricane blends in hints of merengue, plus a sax solo played through a wah pedal like a muted trumpet. The album winds up with the lilting English-language samba Ocean Blue and its lively seaside ambience. This is a soundtrack for the future of New York, and for that matter, the world: multicultural, politically aware, defiantly fun, and danceable as hell. What a great time for music and a rough time for just about everyone.