Barbez

Insignificance

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There is apparently a musical scene in New York known as "ethno-punk-cabaret." It includes such bands as the Dresden Dolls, Gogol Bordello, and Barbez, groups whose influences include everything from Lotte Lenya and Kurt Weill to Swans and Balkan folk music. If you didn't know about the scene from which it springs, though, you might simply hear Barbez as a band that appropriates Russian folk song, turn-of-the-century classical music, and post-punk rock & roll with equal facility, and that by doing so manages to create a remarkably coherent and refreshingly unironic musical fusion. Produced by downtown legend Martin Bisi, Insignificance includes pieces by Alfred Schnittke and Erik Satie, but is at its best when singer Ksenia Vidyaykina is singing songs either traditional ("As for the Little Grey Rabbit") or original ("Strange," penned by guitarist Dan Kaufman) in her rich alto voice. Perhaps the band's most startlingly virtuosic player is Pamelia Kurstin, who takes the Theremin far beyond its usual realm of spooky woo-woo and into that of sweetly lyrical melodicism, especially on a dark and lovely arrangement of Weill's "Song of the Moldau." The album ends with more of a whimper than a bang, but is a remarkable achievement overall.

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