Penelope X is the latest project by the contemporary Macedonian musicians Nikola Kodjabashia, Foltin, and Goce Stevkovski, and it is an excellent contribution to the world music scene. The combination of these three musical geniuses gives birth to a genre colliding material at its finest. Goce Stevkovski is one of the best drummers on the Balkans, while Nikola Kodjabashia is a London based Macedonian composer and pianist who blends classical and electronic music. His unique style can be witnessed in his two critically acclaimed albums, The Most of Now 2008 and Reveries of the Solitary Walker 2004. Foltin, just like this release, is a cross-over band whose sound is pretty unpredictable and their live performances are feast for the senses. They have created a very unique sound that is instantly recognizable.
Penelope X is an album that can’t be easily defined, sprawling from trip hop to Balkan beat, from drum and bass to fusion, and of course there is some good old cabaret vibe swirled into the mix. Just like Foltin’s previous albums, which carry their own personal stories, Penelope X through its eight songs tells the famous story of Odysseys and his journey back home. These songs are a base for a more complex work of art, which is destined for success with a base like this.
The opening song, Kouros, with its catchy melody, broken beats and Branislav Nikolov’s soothing voice is an excellent introduction to the powerful outcome of the synthesis of these musicians. There is a great chemistry between their own personal styles and use of instruments. Kodjabashia’s jazzy synth intertwines with Foltin’s characteristic cabaret sound and Goce Stevkovski’s broken beats, giving us a song that you can both easily listen to and dance to. We go in full gear with the following song, Penelope X. Kodjabashia’s electronic touches give the song a modern feel, the jumping beat and the tango accordion is complimented with nice subtle wobbles, and if you listen carefully you will notice the dubstep beat during the first chorus.
With To Whom Do You Belong Now this band of musicians turn to trip hop to express Odysseys’ lament for his love. Nikolov’s comfy voice and the smooth piano strokes makes us feel Odysseys’ lament. To Whom Do You Belong Now is actually an older song by Nicola Kodjabashia and this is a great re-imagining. Kodjabashia’s production skills come in the forefront with Na Na. It is a glitchy experimental track that can be seen as a little pause before the album again kicks into gear.
Na Na is immediately followed by my favorite song from the album, Cinderella Man. It is an excellent instrumental drum and bass song, which is actually a blend of Foltin’s Milice and Financial Times, songs coming from their album Lo-Lee-Ta-To 2005. This is probably the most danceable song from the album. True Blue Eyes is a more oriental piece of work, a subtle combination of jazzy vibes with Balkan beats. Dawn of The Rose Red Fingers, which is a vocal duet between Branko Nikolov and Rose Betts, starts as an ambient/downtempo song accompanied by Pece Nikolovski’s clarinet, but than it bursts into jazz fusion showing the collaborators virtuosity and their strive against monotony. This song also features the vocals of Angelina Kodjabashia.
Penelope X is a great album that seeks careful listening in order to appreciate all the layers of instruments and sounds that are meticulously intertwined. The combination of these instruments and sounds give the album its core quirkiness and uniqueness. The chemistry between Nikola Kodjabashia, Foltin and Goce Stevkovski is obvious, and the album is a statement of their craftsmanship.