One of the quirkiest and most enjoyable bands I’ve had the pleasure of featuring on this blog is Johnny Kowalski and the Sexy Weirdos. Based in Birmingham, England, the self-described “body-snatching carnival punk band” fuse Celtic, Balkan and Gypsy folk melodies with reggae, ska, mariachi, punk and rock’n’roll to create a uniquely eccentric sound that’s totally original, eclectic, and deliriously entertaining. In 2017, I reviewed their wonderfully marvelous album European English, and am now pleased to feature their latest release Until The Day, which dropped March 19.
Like many bands, they’ve experienced changes in personnel over the years since forming in 2009. Their current lineup consists of frontman Johnny Kowalski (Vocals, Lead Guitar), Chris Yates (Bass), Ilias Lintzos (Percussion), Matthew Osborne (Drums) and Katherine McWilliam (Violin). McWilliam is also violinist and vocalist for the Celtic rock band Quill, and her image is featured in the wonderful artwork for Until The Day, which was designed by Kat Bennett.
Until the Day is the fourth album by Johnny Kowalski and the Sexy Weirdos, and continues their tradition for making fun, generally upbeat songs while also touching on political and cultural issues of the day. Kowalski told me that while the album “doesn’t ignore the multitude of horrors being inflicted upon the world right now“, it’s also about “finding some hope and something to live for despite all that, even if that’s something as simple as celebrating the people around you.”
Things kick off with the title track “Until The Day“, a lively song that nicely encapsulates the album’s overall theme. McWilliam’s spirited violin takes center stage here, accompanied by gnarly guitars, exuberant drumbeats and a bit of funky bass to round out the proceedings. With his distinctive smoky vocals and delightful Brummie accent, Kowalski croons to his beloved about soldiering on together through good times and bad: “Let go of your secrets they’ll be safe with me / From the floor of this bedsit into eternity / We could live like pirates, each day standing tall / Fuck and fight for freedom until the day we fall.”
The mood abruptly changes with “Flowers For Antifa“, a dark and aggressive song of protest against fascism. The raucous, punk-infused melody and harsh instrumentals are the perfect backdrop for Kowalski’s raspy, emotionally-charged vocals that sound a lot like The Clash’s Joe Strummer as he rails against those who fall prey to the hateful and divisive rhetoric of would-be fascist politicians and media talking heads. A verse in the lyrics express support for the militant anti-fascist movement Antifa: “I gave my money to buy flowers for Antifa / And to get the chance to shoot you I would trade in my guitar / When the war is over we will dance in sweet release / Feasting on the bones of all your sycophants and chiefs / Fall in fall out of line…” The song ramps up to a near-frenzy at the end, with Kowalski angrily shrieking “Good night alt right!” I wholeheartedly agree!
“Smug Song” is a classic Sexy Weirdos tune, featuring a rousing gypsy folk vibe delivered with a colorful mix of instruments, highlighted by Lintzos’ electrifying percussive beats and McWilliams plucky violin notes. She lets loose with a terrific violin solo in the bridge that continues through to the end of the track. Next up is “Batch Music“, the first of two instrumental tracks on the album. The blending of fuzz-coated heavy electric guitar and bouyant violin give the song a strong Celtic rock feel.
The band shows their playful side on “Next Year“, which sounds to me like an old drinking song. The lyrics speak to letting loose and opening oneself up to any and all experiences and debaucheries that come along, and to hell with the consequences. We’ll worry about that shit tomorrow. “Pull down the ceiling again / Contact all your crazy friends / Wasted in weird foreign streets / Making memories we will not repeat / The circus is coming to town / Pretty girls bury your frowns / Weird women and men / They might not come again / Ah, fuck it, they’ll be back next year.” The delightful video shows Kowalski and a lovely, scantily clad woman taking turns on a stripper pole in the middle of a rather stylish room, while the other sits in a chair with their back to the person dancing.
“Anarchist Barbeque (Egg For McGregor)” is the second instrumental, and once again, the combination of electric guitars, strong percussion and spirited violin give the song a wonderful Celtic folk-rock feel. The final track “The Dead Yard” continues the Celtic-gypsy vibe, with a bouncy violin-driven melody, gnarly electric guitars, a pulsating bass line and a frantic mix of exuberant percussion and snappy drums. I’m not certain about the song’s meaning, but my guess is that it’s about how on a certain level, our own truths are the ones that really matter to us in the end: “Deceivers will naysay but we’ll still be here / Believe us as we slay / The things you hold dear are gone / I’ll see you in the dead yard once again.” But whatever the meaning, it’s a fantastic song from a musical standpoint, and a fine finish to a terrific and highly satisfying album.