Clocking in at just under forty minutes, Carniphobia is an onslaught far too rich and busy to be absorbed in just one listen. It’s something of a Frankenstein’s monster, genre-wise, melding cabaret, European folk, punk rock and a healthy dose of circus-style theatricality in a way that recalls self-proclaimed gypsy punks Gogol Bordello and cabaret-folk mob Katzenjammer, but make no mistake, Carniphobia is a world of its own.
From the scene-setting opening track Die Die Die to the delightfully twisted closer Oh Your Mother, this is an album that glories in the strange and the macabre. Stuffed full of vocals that seesaw madly between deranged howls and unhinged whispers, deeply unsettling lyrics and creative musicality, Carniphobia is an anarchic fairground ride through a bizarre carnival kingdom, and it’s absolutely glorious. It’s endlessly surprising, too – Dance Of The Clowns and Sold To The Circus are what one might expect to hear based on the words “circus punk”, but then there’s Drunk Girls, which begins with a solo guitar and a restrained, grungy vocal and then quickly blossoms into a swaggering barnstormer of a song complete with buckets of nasty humour and a fabulous brass section. You never know quite what to expect, and that’s what makes it so much fun.
Carniphobia showcases some brilliant songwriting (most notably on tracks like the swing-infused Two Legged Gaunt Freak), but the incorporation of borrowed passages from other musical worlds only adds to the entertainment. Dead Man’s Maggot opens with a sinuous, tango-esque excerpt from Trust In Me, better known as Kaa the snake’s song from The Jungle Book, Merrick features a section of Grieg’s In The Hall of the Mountain King, Sold To The Circus naturally veers off into Julius Fučík’s instantly recognisable Entrance of the Gladiators, known simply to most people as “the circus song”. This isn’t unique to Buffo’s Wake, but what sets them apart from many of the other bands who attempt it is the way it never feels like a crutch or a gimmick. Even the band’s rendition of Korobieniki, the Tetris theme tune, which has already been reinterpreted as everything from a solo piano piece to a dubstep track, feels joyous, crackling with energy and bursting with full, lush instrumentation.
Dark, demented and utterly delicious. What’s not to like?
Carniphobia, the debut album by Buffo’s Wake, is out this Halloween. Find out more here at the band’s website.