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Recycled Sounds: Back to the Old Country

As far as cultural warfare goes, the Cold War is so passé--mostly because, in a few years, a majority of young musicians won't be old enough to remember it at all. But back in 1987, when the Berlin Wall still stood as a concrete reminder of entrenched ideological differences between the USSR and the United States, the supposed resistance to American cultural influence in the Eastern Bloc was put to the test through the efforts of none other than Billy Joel. Though I'm not sure how effective "Uptown Girl" is in improving diplomatic relations, Joel's sojourn through the Soviet Union took the first steps in the process in reconciling the consumerist cool of the New World and the tradition-rich culture of the Old World.

And though it's been over 15 years since the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, the seeds Mr. Joel so courageously sowed have finally borne delicious musical fruit. The rise of Beirut, led by 21-year-old wanderlust Zach Condon, in the indie scene is built upon meandering European folk music rhythms and a decidedly pragmatic Soviet-era aesthetic (as the cover art for 2006's brilliantly-titled Gulag Orkestar will attest).

On the other side of the ruble exists Gogol Bordello, a New York-based band peddling a sort of gypsy/punk rock fusion. Fronted by Eugene Hütz--a man whose style exists somewhere between Fiddler on the Roof and late '80s club kid--the band's eight-year reign has sounded (to WASP ears, at least) a lot like the fun ethnic weddings at the community center that you were rarely invited to. Yet what comes through in their most recent single, "Wonderlust King," is something even more, something that connects with the fact that a semester abroad in Prague is just as coveted now as one in London or Paris. Apparently there's a killer party somewhere east of the Rhine, and Hütz wants you to come along:



Fans of Slavic folk music the world over salute you, Billy Joel.