For American listeners, the sounds of the Balkans often get channeled through young fellows with aspirations of moody elegance. Madison's Reptile Palace Orchestra has been at it longer, and tends to approach the music with screwball exuberance. You'll never see Beirut drop an album called On The Wings Of A Skink, for instance.
The Reptiles know their way around a traditional Bulgarian tune, but frequently attack that framework with funky rhythms, whinnying klezmer clarinet, squishy noise. The new Songs And Dances Of Madisonia, which the band will celebrate with a release party at the High Noon Saloon on Friday, May 25, even includes a cheeky calypso tune, "Wash Your Hands," and a werewolf-themed electronic experiment, "Lycanthropy."
One thing you wouldn't accuse RPO of is restraint -- it's the kitchen sink, a package deal, an irreversible swirl of eccentricity.
One representative introduction to the band would be the Madisonia tune "Rude Oud," titled for a fretless Middle Eastern stringed instrument around which multi-instrumentalist Biff Blumfumgagnge crafts the song. Not content to noodle around on an exotic-sounding scale, he makes that and other stringed instruments do battle with angry reeds and Seth Blair's electric cello.
The band mischievously builds it all into an echoing, wobbling trip -- with Maggie Weiser, who recently joined up as a vocalist, chanting something in the background -- but keeps a lot of control in there too. Drummer Robert Schoville tightens it up still more, kicking the song along on a sharp beat that could be Latin or Middle Eastern or both. Though the track feels like it must be longer than its runtime of 3:45, RPO still displays a discipline well above your average psychedelic experiment.
You could argue that not many folks would even bother playing this blend of sounds -- dubbed "Balkan Lounge Funk" -- but RPO would still be among the few bands you'd trust to pull it off.
MadTracks highlights and provides MP3s of songs performed by local musicians. All tracks here are provided with permission of the artist. If you are a musician based in the Madison metro area and are interested in sharing your work as a MadTrack, please send a message.