Tummel - Payback Time
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Payback Time
Band Release (www.tummel.nu)

Tummel started out in 1997 as a young klezmer band based in Sweden and Denmark. The groups's 2001 release, Oy! was full of energetic tunes, and marked them as a band to watch. Since then, Tummel seems to have opened up a whole cabinet of crazy: 2004's Transit showed that Tummel was going to use Eastern European music as their reference point, but they were broadening their rock and progressive influences. As a result, Tummel's latest offering, Payback Time, is an uncategorizable delight, and hands-down one of the wildest CDs of 2009.

The party begins with "This Ship Is Sinking," which sounds as if Tummel are describing their worst gig ever ("Public humiliation/has never had a bigger hit"). The chaos is married to a Russian-style tune, reminding me of The Pogues' "Drunken Boat" on Waiting for Herb, but with far more whimsy. That Tummel are a seven-piece band and have a killer horn section has meant that in addition to the klezmer and Balkan influences, funk has had an opportunity to creep into the band. Hence, "Payback Time," with its cries of "What time is it?," and "Weiß Trash" are full-on dance floor fillers. There is something about lead singer Jens Friis-Hansen's vocals on "Weiß Trash" that is 'halfway between the gutter and the stars' (to borrow from Fatboy Slim); Friis-Hansen consistently nails a tone that is witty and wide-eyed in this Eurotrashtastic cabaret. As for real diversity, check out "Bhangri La," where the group captures the flavor of Bollywood dhol in a most unexpected way.

I'd venture to say (and I mean this as praise) that as steeped in Eastern European music Tummel's perfect pop has become, at times Tummel are beginning to sound like a more ethnicized version of Oingo Boingo. One listen to "Away," and I rest my case: Friis-Hansen has the shadowy, beneath-the-brow delivery of Danny Elfman, and the klezmer-inspired horn lines only strengthen the comparison. Another sonic fraternity occurs on "Cyanide," with its lyrical kiss-off of "I've put cyanide in your coffee/And powdered arsenic on your toffee/I've put a razor blade inside a cake I made/And a tarantula in your bed," which evinces the black, laughing heart of The Tiger Lillies.

Tummel are a fabulous mix of Eastern European influences, Semitic desire and humor, decadence and repentance. They're punk without the too-predictable tendencies of 'new Gypsies' like Gogol Bordello. So, come to the cabaret, my friends, especially if Tummel are playing. - Lee Blackstone

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