The Dolomites - Japan Years

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The Dolomites
Japan Years Volumes I-III
Alien Arts Alliance

Yeah, I know. Japanese bands that are named for European mountain ranges and play alt-fusion music based on Balkan sources are just so darn commonplace. But even in such an oversaturated genre, The Dolomites stand out. I mean, really, how can you go wrong when your starting point is a guy whose heritage has equal footing in Japan and Romania, actually chose to learn to play the accordion as a youngster and had a different band everywhere he went, based on whatever adventurous local musicians he could recruit?

Stevhen Koji Baianu, the guy to whom I'm referring, makes it work. This miniseries of EPs prominently feature his squeezebox and decidedly rough vocals (think Iggy Pop gone Gypsy after downing equally copious measures of uppers and downers), tuba providing most of the low end, Japanese, Latin and Arabic percussion fueling the frenzy and an aesthetic that doesn't give a flying whatever about coddling the pop crowd, the world music crowd, the in crowd or any other crowd. I doubt Stevhen would even care if a reviewer like me said that this music absolutely stinks. Heck, he'd probably take the “this music absolutely stinks” part of the sentence out of context and wave it like an accolade.

But it doesn't stink. While it doesn't even begin to have any serious pretensions and is as hard-edged as broken concrete, it's also great fun. Recorded in Japan and the U.S. between 2006 and 2010 with apparently the closest Stevhen has come to having a regular lineup of players, the three volumes don't differ much apart from the last one being a hair more experimental in terms of instrumentation. Otherwise they're a trio of in-your-face-and-out-the-other-side unhinged power bursts where Balkan meets global punk and any notion of square pegs and round holes is rendered immaterial. Not for everyone's taste, but undeniably unique, rousing and bold. - Tom Orr

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