The 30-second intro to “Blue Eyed Black Boy,” the third album by Balkan Beat Box, features a handful of mashed-together vocal lines, all dissimilar, pieced together over a steady beat.
It’s a great primer for what’s to come.
Since surfacing at the beginning of the 2000s, the band has created a jumble of styles swirled together into something new altogether.
The name of Balkan Beat Box, a collective based around Israeli-New Yorkers Tamir Muskat and Ori Kaplan, does well to describe the music, too. They take Eastern sounds — klezmer melodies, Mediterranean grooves, African chants — and mixes them with dance music that might flow from a boombox on a New York street corner.
Sound exotic? It is, and “Blue Eyed Black Boy” pumps up the grooves fuller than ever before. There’s not a song on the 14-track album that won’t get you nodding along, maybe even dancing in your seat.
Balkan Beat Box represents just one band in a genre of Eastern-blended music that became the style du jour halfway through last decade. Gogol Bordello mixes the sound of the Balkans with driving punk rock; Beirut fuses that Eastern lilt with beautifully orchestrated pop. But for sheer musical movement, Balkan Beat Box’s jumping beats and blazing horns take the cake.
Though the band’s core long consisted of just Muskat and Kaplan, the addition of the MC Tomer Yosef brings the energy to a consistent high, and on “Blue Eyed Black Boy,” the trio of brains work together in harmony. “My Baby” takes a simple guitar riff and a winding melody, with Yosef trading lines with a whole gang of background vocalists. Then, like in many songs on the album, a chorus of horns cuts in and the song takes flight, with shouts of “Yallah!” in the background.
You’d be hard pressed to find a more fun, party-starting album (with a Jewish slant, to boot) this summer.
Where “Blue Eyed Black Boy” suffers is repetition. Balkan Beat Box creates a great racket, but it’s not a dynamic one. Sure, some songs work in shades of reggae or dub, but the formula remains the same: start with a little groove, add some vocals, cut to a horn solo and fade out.
“Lijepa Mare” follows “Smatron” and the former just sounds like a sped up version of the latter.
Balkan Beat Box succeeds on “Blue Eyed Black Boy” in creating some infectious, exotic grooves. Just don’t expect to distinguish one song from the next. But this isn’t an album for headphone listeners and music analyzers. Instead, invite some friends over, mix some strong drinks and watch a dance party begin.
(Justin Jacobs can be reached online at firstname.lastname@example.org.)