Self-described "guerrilla-folk party-punks imprisoned and liberated by Eastern European folklore" Lemon Bucket Orkestra return with If I Had the Strength, an album that seems to be built on two important recent experiences. In 2014, Mark and Marichka Marczyk saw the violent Ukrainian revolution first-hand, and in real time. Following that, the band released their sophomore record Moorka, and mounted the theatrical production Counting Sheep. Their thematic inspiration continues here, and their recent experiments with narratives longer than a single song shows: this new record is constructed as a conceptual whole, exploring the after-effects of violence.
"The Game" provides a jazzy introduction, before we're abruptly whisked away with the sprinting tempo and military-esque piccolo of "Crooked." The hoarse, gut-wrenching screams of "Fate" act as a prelude into "Goodbye," another uptempo narrative. The prelude-transition pattern repeats in the second half of the record with the choral "When" leading into "Palinka," which features Montréal-based Latinx rapper Boogat.
The hand drum solo on "Cocoon" again functions as a lead-in to "Heroes," which features Measha Brueggergosman's enthralling vocals as a highpoint of musical drama. "Peace," featuring Choir! Choir! Choir!, ends the record with a majestic build of vocal layers. The record seems to end with a celebratory return home juxtaposed with a lament for what was lost — and ultimately, a plea for peace.
Only about six or seven tracks here could be said to maintain the rollicking party-folk-punk feel of Moorka, but generally, this record feels more spacious and sombre than anything they've done before. Some fans will miss the energy of prior work, but others will welcome this change of pace, a marked evolution for the band. (Outside)