It's easy to draw some basic boundaries around the music of the Gunga Din by noting the artists their drummer, Jim Sclavunos, has worked with over the past 18 years: Sonic Youth, Lydia Lunch and 8 Eyed Spy, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Boss Hog, the Cramps, Tav Falco's Panther Burns. It's an impressive list, one that has at its center a certain subtle darkness, a smoky din and, above all else, seediness. Add to this the collected résumé of the band -- which includes members or former members of God Is My Co-Pilot (singer Siobhan Duffy); Congo Norvell (singer/guitarist Bill Bronson); the great, great Supreme Dicks (Chris Pradica); and Stereo Total (organist Maria Zastrow) -- and you've got quite a list of references.
Resembling most the dirty, organ-based carnival music of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds around the time of Your Funeral ... My Trial, the Gunga Din creates music for drunks: When they're not slow and brooding, they're trying damned hard to be faster and lighter. The Farfisa organ works very hard to add a dose of levity, but it ends up making the music even sadder, the way a stumbling-drunk dancer attempts to have fun but just winds up looking pathetic. Of course, the Gunga Din aren't pathetic; they just brood and smoke, and when they catch fire, as on "Mama," they transcend their moodiness. "It's one of those days/I"m jumping out of my skin again," sings Duffy, and you can hear the desperation in her voice. But even more important, you can hear the buried hope that by facing the devil, something -- maybe something good -- will sneak to the surface. Highly recommended.