VaGTaZo HALOTTKeMEKNaptanc (Neurot)
Their name means ”galloping coroners,“ so these Hungarians do have a sense of humor. In fact, though, much of Vagtazo Halottkemek‘s sprawling tension-and-release noodle-poodle is funny because the players seem a bit too taken with their folksy goulash. In truth, Hungarian music — pushed and pulled between Austrians and Ottomans, Rom fakery and Bartok’s romanticized manipulation — is one of the most bastard musics in the world. Naptanc is, not surprisingly, a messy affair.
For example, take track No. 2, ”Sugallat“ (”Inspiration“), a sputter of didgeridoo farts. The tune is neither regional nor aboriginal, but it‘s just the sort of hybridized curve ball the band love to throw. The maelstrom of shiny guitars, ploppity ustdobok (kettledrums), flutes, violin, xylophone and something called a doromb turn Naptanc (which translates as ”dancing with the sun“) into a whirling fever dream. Unfortunately, this often translates into those for-the-tourists Gypsy jams you hear everywhere from London tube stations to the lobby of the Istanbul Hilton. Even the album’s cover art depicts an idyllic Carpathian mountain-valley stream, where reindeer petroglyphs etched into the sky fly toward a zodiac sun — a symbol of the theorized connection between modern Hungarians and Laplanders, just in case the music doesn‘t build a strong enough case.
As an analogue, let’s use the half-Lebanese Dick Dale, who one day alloyed the furious strumming of the oud to the stylings of the rock guitar and, lo and behold, invented surf music. Similarly, Vagtazo are best when they fumble, sowing pockets of ambient fuzz with tendrils of melody, drone and desultory percussive thwacks. Sure, ”Csodaszarvas-idezo“ (”Conjuring Up the Wonder Stag“) or ”‘seimmel“ (”With My Ancestors“) may whip you into a proud-to-be-Magyar frenzy. But Vagtazo are best when they’re sculpting sweet-sour nothings out of no tradition at all.