BBB attempts to merge traditional music from the Balkans and the Middle East with Western rock, DJ, and electronic music. In spirit, it's not all that different from Talvin Singh's noble attempts to merge bhangra and electronica. And like Singh, BBB doesn't entirely succeed. Their debut sounds like a well-behaved DJ spinning records in a falafel shop.
Maybe my hopes are to blame. I want to hear that DJ run amok in the falafel shop. I want to hear him tear the place up. I want him to laugh like a lunatic while he guts the cheap cassettes in the shop's soundsystem and drenches the whole restaurant with a thick sauce of electronic mayhem. I want the owner to run screaming because some giant maniacal freak who looks like he'd belong on the cover of Massive Attack and Mad Professor's No Protection has pulled out his turntables and is demolishing the joint.
None of that's happening here. Yeah, "9/4 the Ladies" brings in some dub influences, "Shushan" taps into some good energy, and the horns in "Boom Pak" hint at the spirit of Charles Mingus. Tracks 4 through 7 are pretty solid, and they show that BBB can create some musical magic when they set their mind to it. But the first three tracks are boring, and I've struggled to get through the second half of the album everytime I've listened to it.
BBB has potential to be a great band, but Balkan Beat Box leaves me unfulfilled. Maybe they achieve it on their second album, and maybe they're one of those bands that is transcendental in concert. Or maybe, like Talvin Singh, BBB is a great idea that will never be fully realized.
BBB is trying to do something incredibly difficult. They didn't exactly fail, but Balkan Beat Box isn't a success, either. The musicianship is strong, and they occasionally meld disparate styles into a compelling whole. But the album suffers because, even at its strongest moments, the band doesn't push hard enough against established boundaries. It's worth a listen, though, and it definitely benefits from good speakers that are cranked up loud.
Packaging: (Altered by EPFL.)
The cover reminds me of riding buses in Queens, where well-dressed yuppies and crated chickens competed for precious space in the aisles. The liner notes are mostly unreadable, since the original packaging was cut up by EPFL to fit inside a jewel box.
Listen if you like: Gogol Bordello, Natacha Atlas, Talvin Singh
If it were food, it'd be: a falafel sandwich that tries to cross cultures by using Wonder bread instead of a pita.