Let’s talk about Estonia. No one ever talks about Estonia. Estonia is probably the kind of place hipsters would move to just so they could say that they live in an obscure place that you’ve probably never heard of. The whole Baltic region is but a far-flung concept of everyone’s mental map except to Estonians and to people who are linked with people of Estonian decent (I know how it feels. I’m half Slovenian; no one in America has ever heard of Slovenia…), even to those who know their geography well as they only think about Estonia when asked to point it out on a map. It’s a region damned to an obscurity comparable to… you know… that place in the middle of Asia or that group of islands in the Pacific that isn’t Hawaii. Hell, I don’t think I could have named one Estonian band or, for that matter, any band from the Baltic region before today. Now I can, and I’m happy that it’s a name as abstract sounding as “Winny Puhh.”
It seems that all of the essential information on Winny Puhh is in the Estonian language, as they are primarily established in their native country (since 1993 to be exact) but they’ve recently been picking up steam abroad. The band, whose name is translated into English as “Winnie Pooh” (in case you had your doubts), has two distinctive elements: their bizarre theatrics and the psychiatric patient on lead vocals:
The singer defines the band’s sound. He sounds like a really angry cartoon bird that wants to sing in a hair metal band (he’s probably angry because his parents said that becoming a hair metal vocalist is not a viable career path because he’s a bird). It sounds better in Estonian, obviously.
And I have no idea what’s going on in this next one but I’m intrigued. It’s a more mature track than the last and even has some folk melodies. There’s also a man who sometimes has a peg leg and is somehow crapping the front of his pants (the Estonians clearly have a sick sense of humor). And the song is called “Peetus” if that helps.
They have no problem changing their sound on a whim, too.
But they stuck with their usual antics and took it to a new level when they tried entering the Eurovision Song Contest this year. Though they only placed 3rd for Estonia (and I’m not surprised because it’s Eurovision), they’ve gone viral for reasons that I don’t need to spell out if you watch the video:
The last time a decent act played at Eurovision was Knorkator back in 2000. But I guess that’s just MY opinion.
Now if only I could name two Estonian bands…
Today’s band was one I first encountered about 10 years ago but hadn’t thought much of in some time. That is until I rediscovered their stuff on YouTube and eventually wandered over to their site. I then learned they originated in Allston, MA. Allston. The tiny sub-town in which I currently reside. The blogging was on.
A self-described “surf-spy-cocktail rock” group, Seks Bomba formed in 1996 as a quintet consisting of vocals/guitar, organ/flute, drums, guitar, and bass, their name coming from the only recognizable phrase in a Czech magazine frontman Chris Cote was leafing through. Their musical language can best be summed up by looking at the cover of their first album, Operation B.O.M.B.A.; all of the kinds of music you could expect to hear on the soundtrack to a post-Goldfinger 60’s spy movie. No decade has been more eulogized than the 60’s, from Mad Men to the hundreds of hippie throwback genres and here as what has usually been seen as the most disposable genres of their era. The genius of Bomba is their ability to take music meant to be ignored (lounge exotica, cartoon jazz, cheap spy suspense) and bring out all the best qualities of each one, causing the listener to wonder how they could have forgotten them in the first place. “Rum Holiday” is a great example of their craft; their musicianship is super tight, their songwriting is lovely and inventive, and they have a great deal of passion about each note. Some of these hooks I have a hard time getting out of my mind, especially the bridge section in Cmaj7 (at 1:52). And as much as I like their second album, Somewhere in this Town, is even better, featuring stuff like a great cover of “Charade” and the inescapable “5-0-5!!!”
Now I know what you’re thinking: isn’t this the same thing as what Pink Martini does, but with less singing? Well, yes, but firstly I don’t think there can only be one famous band for a possible niche, and Pink Martini didn’t get famous until Seks Bomba had already effectively quit. Both groups occupy an interesting subgenre that probably only could have arisen after the success of the Swing Revival of the 90’s with groups like Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, Royal Crown Revue and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. And I’ll admit that Pink Martini have a bit more variety than Seks Bomba, but Bomba is special to me for nostalgia reasons (I listened to Somewhere to death in both Middle and High Schools), and I think they get a lot of memorability for a mostly instrumental group. They Bomba’d for the last time in 2005 with the release of their third album Thanks and Good Night, but all three albums are available for download on amazon.com and other DRM-ridden channels (and possibly under-the-table ways which I won’t link here). Their albums stand as a testament to respecting and glorifying the past rather than mocking it, the latter of which is all too prevalent these days. You can tell that they deeply love their supposed “disposable” music, and their high level of musicianship and songwriting prove their case. Pass the martinis and watch out for knife-shoes.