Gai Saber - La Fabrica Occitana
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cd cover Gai Saber
La Fabrica Occitana
Felmay (

It has been four years since Gai Saber's stunning electronic album Electro Ch'oc, a recording full of cutting-edge technology and radical reworkings of Occitanian folk melodies and poetry. For those unfamiliar with the band's driving mission, Gai Saber seek to preserve the d'Oc language, and they are guardians of a culture at the nexus of Italian, Spanish, and French influences. Over the years, they have not shied away from experimentation, and their albums have veered from pure folk-rock to ambient drum 'n' bass to punk to medieval ballads.

Whereas Electro Ch'oc began with distorted electronics and dirty noise, the first track of La Fabrica Occitana is much more traditional. The production has a more live sound (especially the drums), and is more acoustic. The band begins to show its colors more on the second track, "Clar de bloi (Azure light)," with a spoken-word segment that is not quite rap, but certainly a new element for the group.

It is track three, "Chalendas de mai (May Calende)," that sets the tone for the rest of the album: high energy all the way, and a seamless melding of electronics with diverse instrumentation that includes harp, hurdy-gurdy, melodeon, and bagpipes. "May Calende" has a lovely, slightly reggae beat underpinned by distorted hurdy-gurdy and chiming harp. For a song about the regeneration of nature, the nod to reggae is completely appropriate for the sun-drenched season.

"Garda aquesta terra"
Most of the songs on La Fabrica Occitana deal with modernization, globalization, and pride of place. "Garda aquesta terra (Take care of this land)" brings a punkish fury back to the mix. Likewise, "L'ome que beica la television (The man who watches TV)" is a rapid-fire indictment of the mass media, and races along with a dark synth-line before swinging back to a heavy rock beat. Gai Saber's songs are always made more dramatic by the deft interplay between male and female voices, and this is one other element that contributes to the band sounding so unlike other bands that have emerged from the Italian folk revival.

The social themes of Gai Saber's latest are clearly in sync with their past efforts, but the real highlights of La Fabrica Occitana are two Christmas songs that receive the band's electronica treatment. "Vautre que sias assembla (You who are reunited)," a holiday song from Provence, plays distorted hurdy-gurdy, crunching drums, and oh-so-delicate female vocals to breathtaking effect. There is a political intent at work here, as well. By thrusting this traditional Christmas music into the mix and rendering it contemporary, the band shows that the globalizing forces that disorient tradition can be utilized to actually contribute to Occitanian folk culture. Call it a counter-strike if you will, but Gai Saber know how to maintain their music's identity amidst the clutter and chaos of contemporary civilization. Gai Saber may sound more acoustic in 2006, but there is plenty of electricity here, both sonic and cultural. - Lee Blackstone

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