Jaro Milko & the Cubalkanics’ new album Cigarros Explosivos – streaming at Bandcamp – sounds kind of like a Balkan version of Chicha Libre. Yeah, that good. The Firewater lead guitarist proves to be as original and interesting playing Peruvian surf music as his Brooklyn counterparts, who jumpstarted the whole chicha revival. It reaffirms how the cumbia revolution has taken over the entire globe – or at least established a base pretty much everywhere. This seems to be as much of a deviously tongue-in-cheek homage to classsic Peruvian sounds as it is a mix of killer original chicha grooves. Another band this brings to mind, for its surreal sense of humor and frequently cinematic sensibility, is Finnish surf legends Laika & the Cosmonauts.
The opening track, Cumbia Griega sets the stage, taking a classic Los Mirlos bassline and then coming together around a spiky Enrique Delgado-style hammer-on guitar riff from Milko, who plays an army’s worth of guitars here. After Eric Gilson’s organ and Eric Gut’s drums come in, it sounds like Chicha Libre in noir mode, part creepy surf, part Peruvian psychedelica.
El Topo could be an early Los Straitjackets number- the band turns up the distortion and adds the hint of a New Orleans shuffle beat. Over a dark reggae groove, All the Past ponders what’s left for a culture after “money’s here for joy in the world of desire” and pushes everything else out of the picture…more or less. Cumbia #5, which happens to be the fourth track, builds a dubwise tropical atmosphere and then shifts to blippy southern Balkan-flavored electric guitar jazz.
Miseria adds swing, hints of flamenco and ominous organ to a classic psychedelic cumbia vamp. The album’s longest track, Summer in January builds a wry, wistful seaside tableau. Where Chicha Libre bring in a French influence, these guys do the same with the Balkans, with a similar wit and erudition – and in this case, Milko’s elegant twelve-string guitar lines.
A brisk Balkan tango with some sizzling tremolo-picked guitar, Belly’s Bounce sounds like Laika & the Cosmonauts with horns, Milko’s frenetic lead lines contrasting with Lukas Briggen’s suave trombone. El Perro evokes Peruvian psychedelic legends Los Destellos working a LA lowrider groove, but more aggressively, while Herido blends Del Shannon noir with a creepy bolero: it’s arguably the album’s strongest track.
Danza Mentirosa keeps the creepy vibe going, a dubwise crime jazz theme that evokes Big Lazy with an organ. Cumbia Orientale is not a cumbia but an ominously marching Vegas tango, while Nah Neh Nah introduces a surfed-up ye-ye pop theme, Milko first playing a little Django and then a whole lot of Django: the guy’s an amazing guitarist. The album winds up with the surreal, cynical, rhythmically dizzying, disquieting Music Rum & Cha Cha Cha. Until Chicha Libre makes another album, this is the best recent mix of south-of-border psychedelics you’ll find anywhere.