Winter & Winter
When you're in the mood for a bit of culture mash, check this one out: It's your basic Norwegian-cum-Bulgarian synthesis. Strange as it sounds, the album validates its own blend of influences with winks of humor. The band is built around the abidingly eclectic interests of multi-instrumentalist Stian Carstensen, who has Eastern European roots. He plays a mean accordion, as well as guitar, whose distorted electric textures complement the earthier sounds in the group-bagpipe, kaval (Bulgarian flute), violin and banjo.
Guests from India and Bulgaria, including a female choir (lovely on "A Young Girl Made a Crown of Forest Flowers"), add extra color to the core quintet's sound, and the music follows its odd stylistic course, full of fanciful odd-metered Eastern European tunes to Nordic sonorities and rock- and jazz-tinged ideas. The group takes its music seriously, which doesn't mean that all is serious in mood, as with the quirky rock ditty "Les Paul, More John," a postmodern nod to Les Paul's multitracking guitar experiments. It's a hoot, as is the ragtime parody "Some Fag Rag," but with some serious chops involved. So it goes on the rest of the album, which contains many a beauteous moment and feverish riff on its little musical trip around Europe.