REVIEWS: Bankrupt, Iarla O'Lionard, Rufio Summers

Bankrupt - Rewound

If the Swingin Utters were fronted by Matt Skiba from Alkaline Trio and watched more Quentin Tarentino films then Bankrupt, Budapest’s snottiest pop-punkers, may be facing law suits with their sixth release, the jaded yet strangely convincing ‘Rewound’. Fifteen years into their career, the lads’ instrumental proficiency and tightness as a band has attained a fine spit-and-polish, which is rarely a bad thing - albeit not particularly ‘punk’. Their latest crack at retaining interest, a novel cocktail of pop-punk, surf and Mad Sin-style rockabilly (fortunately not succumbing to the slapstick ‘psychobilly’ gimmick) does them many favours - much needed to balance against their weak spots – a blatant rip-off of Orange’s ‘No Rest For The Weekend’ (imaginatively titled ‘Weekend’), and the same petty disaffected moaning that hovers like a bad smell in many corners of today’s punk.

Iarla O-Lionard - Foxlight                                                                 .

A ghostly voice gently dances over the thick, wet trudge. It glides and bends gently in the age-old patterns of its forefathers - aching, hopelessly pushing under the weight of a crushing melancholia. Under it a blanket of elaborate sounds drones and twinkles – digitally tweaked to within an inch of its former self. Is this the funeral march of tradition? The marriage of the old and the new? Compromise? Innovation? In the age of the computer, it’s no surprise that celtic folk is demanding questions.

Iarla O’Lionaird may have discarded traditional authenticity by adopting the art of 21st Century audio twiddling, but having done so he has seized the helm of a larger power, free to play with a rich bounty of sonic wonders – synths, pianos that sound like they’re being played at the bottom of a loch, fuzzy backgrounds of static crackling and snare brushstrokes. They creep in and out, almost orchestral in their variation. The whole sound – wet and resonant, slowly pulsing along, rooted in folk tradition - even the alien mystery of the language it’s sung in – is very Sigur Ros. However, Iarla’s Irish heritage provides the most vital ingredients– the strange phrasing patterns of yesteryear can be heard in the virginally cute ‘Goat Song’, and the bobbing Sean-nós melodies of the girl singing in ‘Daybreak’ are stunningly evocative of emerald hills and murky, rippling lakes.

The traditionalists will probably condemn it as fetishisation of the sacred, a dilution of that which should be untouchable – sort of like slapping paint on a museum relic. For me, however, traditional folk is no different from any other ingredient a musician can use – art can’t evolve without a past to evolve from and therefore it is every creator’s birthright to plunder tradition in whichever way he/she sees fit. What Iarla has done here is create something new and interesting out of an art form that’s sinking into obscurity – fair play to him.

                                                     Rufio Summers - Over It EP

"There ain't no problem that I can't fix with a baseball bat and a broken heart", Rufio Summers snarls. Ten seconds into the first song and I'm caught totally off guard by this unexpected burst of rage. Already I can see his appeal - this angel-voiced soul singer just got his heart ripped out so brutally that he’s exploded out of his own mould. This is a passion you just can’t fake (and many have tried). In fact it’s so convincing you almost feel like crediting circumstance rather than talent. In his world - that where the emotionally bland and unconvincing rule supreme – this deception is a rare gift.

When it comes to the destructive love that inspires this emotion and dominates his songwriting, he might claim to be ‘Over It’, but every track on this EP is a statement that he’s not. He tries to escape it but ends up just looking at it from different angles – the theme here is addiction.

Perhaps the other theme, which goes hand in hand with addiction, is self-deception - as well as the aforementioned claim, Rufio also insists he’s a ‘One Trick Pony’ despite clearly having his fingers in several musical pies. One minute he’s ripping out a rough, Seasick Steve blues riff, the next he’s crooning to the sexy minor 7’s of R&B, ending the EP with a track that only a beat away from something you’d hear at Moo Moo’s on a Saturday. It’s a perfect demo tape – every song a new example of what he can do.

However, there’s no doubt that Rufio’s forte is his vocal style. Swelling with soul, virtuosic but not overly gymnastic, his is a trans-Atlantic blend of Stevie Wonder and Kele Okereke. He flawlessly glides in and out of falsetto, even using it to squeeze a chuckle out of ‘Watch Out’ with his squeaky ex-girlfriend impression. Unfortunately his guitar doesn’t carry the emotion like his voice does, and occasionally sounds a little sloppy and slurred, painfully exemplified in the nasty bum notes at the end of ‘Akeachi’. The lyrics, too, are only pulled off by his dulcet tones – once you look past the melodic embellishments their lack of ambition becomes apparent. As a bit of a lyrics nazi, this is an area I am often disappointed with – too many people just aren’t trying to say anything new. Then again, this is probably just my ‘Bob Dylan syndrome’ talking.

With a history of disintegrated rock bands behind him, it seems likely that the modest accompaniment of guitars and backing vocals was the result of collaborative frustration rather than a deliberate gravitation to a sparser sound. I think it’s safe to say, not least after having listened to a more recent track on his website complete with full band and swelling production (Ok, you caught me, the EP has been out for a while!), that the ‘lonely singer-songwriter’ medium doesn’t do Rufio justice. All too often this arrangement, which should really be kept for those introverted enough to exploit its intimacy, is adopted by songwriters purely out of convenience. His bluesier moments may give him a shot at being a modern day delta troubadour, but a man oozing confidence like Rufio needs beats; a horn section, goddamit!

The production has a couple of tasty tricks – the vocal’s high pass reverb and delay hangs back, leaving the raw surface to rip undisturbed, which is a thoughtful technique - but the guitar, and indeed the whole track, is well, well too compressed in my opinion, leading me to wonder whether this was a studio job with a producer or just a well done bedroom demo.
There’s something transitory about ‘Over It’, like Rufio’s treading water until he gets the chance to do what he really wants. However, his confidence is infectious and it’s hard to imagine him not going places once he’s found his way. Keeping my eye on this one.