'Tuned In' review: Exhausted listeners might balk at 'Balkan Beats'


'Balkan Beats Soundlab' by Robert Soko

"Balkan Beats Soundlab" by Robert Soko

“Balkan Beats Soundlab,” Robert Soko (Piranha)

This really is a thing.

Yugoslavia native Robert Soko has been working in Berlin on an electronic-music subset that has come to be known as “Balkan Beats” — an Eastern Europe influenced sound built on brassy notes and wild cadence, a techno-ska of sorts with Old World nuance.

DJ Soko remixed and compiled cuts for his new “Balkan Beats Soundlab” that hones in on a distinct style from an assortment of artists from around Europe (not restricted to Balkan states), including Romania, Hungary, Austria and France.

This isn’t a continuous-mix collection without pauses between songs — which might prove disruptive to anyone using it as a dance album — yet the gaps tip off listeners when the songs change. Otherwise, it’d be hard to tell where one track ends and the next begins.

Flurries of horns and swirling rhythms are typically marked by festive vocals and arranged in dance-friendly, electronic-heavy processing. The sound is remarkably consistent, though a few cuts stand out, including the Oktoberfest-feeling “Sex, Drugs, Berlinskibeat” by Berlinskibeat, the surf-guitar laden “Balkan Beast” by Gypsy Hill and the hyperbeat-driven “Csango Leany” by Besh O Drom.

As admirable as the continuity is, however, it’s also fatiguing. The infectious appeal of the cartoonish enthusiasm and overall weirdness eventually loses its charm in redundancy, and the novelty wears thin. (And make no mistake, this is novelty music.)

It doesn’t help that the momentum crashes with the strangely flat 13th track, Florian Mikuta’s “Giampara,” and then struggles to recover its footing.

There’s no going back after 12 consecutive manic tracks, so Soko might as well have kept the pace up till the end.

Rating (five possible): 3

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