Created over the course of over a decade Darius Koski, frontman of US punk legends the Swingin’ Utters, uses an arsenal of traditional, acoustic-based instruments to create a hodgepodge of styles and blend that includes bluegrass, country, blues and American and Irish folk.
Darius Koski is a family man with a day job as a plumber but its in his other life as songwriter, lead guitarist and vocalist for the now legendary Californian punk band The Swingin’ Utters that peaks our interest.
Formed back in 1987 the Utters had a traditional punk rock sound in the early days which soon incorporated elements of folk, country and celtic in their sound. Darius described their music as
“I’ve always thought of our songs as just loud, aggressive and fast folk or country songs”
About a decade ago The Swingin’ Utters looked to be coming to a abrupt end and Darius and Johnny Bonnel went off to form the excellent Filthy Thieving Bastards a Pogues inspired celtic-punk band that went to record three albums and a EP.
Darius Koski abilities as a song writer and musician are undeniable and though fans of the band will mainly associate him with the streetpunk of the Swingin’ Utters he has an uncanny knack of picking up and being able to play a whole multiude of instruments. Guitar, piano, banjo, accordion, violin, glockenspiel, vibraphone, melodica, ukulele and even percussion are all within his grasp and a talent for playing several genres combine to make this, his first solo album, an absolute pleasure to review.
For someone so skilled in playing celtic music it should come as no suprise, in this day and age of musics globalisation and celtic musics popularity around the world, that Darius Koski has no celtic heritage and he is in fact half Persian through his Mammy (‘Darius’ was an old Persian king) while his father is from Finland (‘Koski’ meaning ‘rapids’ in Finnish). The title of the album ‘Sisu’ is a Finnish word without an English translation, but is considered to represent the idea of perseverance in the face of adversity.
“my parents didn’t give me cars or expensive things like that but they gave me work ethic. It’s almost a cliche. Your parents are immigrants, they have work ethic, but it’s true, absolutely”
Some of these songs have been swimming around in Darius head for over ten years so with a Utters tour just finished he found the time between crawling under houses in his 9-5 job and his other projects to get ‘Sisu’ recorded. It seems that every punk rock band vocalist fancies himself as a country singer at the moment ( must say though I’m a big fan of the majority of them) and while I’m sure for most its a way to pay the bills with the workrate that the Swingin’ Utters keep up and holding down a day job I’m amazed Darius has found the time.
The first of the albums tracks is ‘Fond Of, Lost To’ and sees Darius start off with one of the albums most standout tracks with fast strumming acoustic guitar and a country twang. Don’t make the mistake of thinking the whole album is full of foot tappers though as he follows up with ‘Empty Thing’, a 50s inspired croon, while ‘On Leaving’ comes across as a 40’s inspired folk number.
No musical stone is left unturned and ‘Listen!’ is over virtually as soon as it begins with a jaunty wee tune while ‘The Sound Of Waves’ slows it down and is one of the first tracks on this album that was written back in 1999. Darius only got the inspiration to finally record the track when he realised he had enough songs and the motivation to record an album.
“I’ve been seriously really frustrated and tortured about this for a really long time, and I was procrastinating to the point where it really got depressing, I’ve been meaning to do something for the last seven or eight years”
‘Paper Tigers, Plastic Lions’ is another standout track in the sense that yes its a great song but also because of the violin, organ and piano make up of the track and the haunting gothic-folk undertones that reminded me of English folk-pop group The Band Of Holy Joy. ‘Howls From The Gale’ livens up again with the foot tapping back again and this time head nodding added! At last the accordian gets an airing in the flyaway ‘Sidewalk Serenade’ and the celticness is not far away. A beautiful instrumental backed by a gently strummed guitar. It could explode any minute into celtic punk but I suppose we’ll have to wait for the next Dirty Thieving Bastards album for that.
‘Bells’ is possibly the albums first foray into what could be described as a traditional country song. Even then there’s enough going on to mix in several genres as well. ‘Do Nothin’ is a speedy folky number about doing anything rather that go to work. ‘Contacts And Contracts’ is another song that was originally written back in 1999 and shows that things haven’t changed much in the years since. I have to say even though I like the whole album its the faster tracks that really got to me and ‘Show Me The Way’ is a perfect example. Fast guitar, tuneful and catchy chorus and a country twang that doesn’t go too far but far enough you could still squeeze the phrase ‘Honky Tonk’ in there somewhere! ‘So Help Me’ slows it all down with just the guitar and voice before another class song jumps out and the Sun Records era ‘Tension Tank’ comes fast and furious at you and The Man In Black will I am sure be tapping his toes with a huge grin. The final track is ‘Everybody Leaves’ and brings down the curtain with a slow and beautifully heartfelt song that is the standout of the LP’s slower paced songs.
“I’m always just passing through, I’m always on the move”
This record stands as a tribute to Darius versatility. ‘Sisu’ boasts all the hallmarks of a Swingin’ Utters record but laid out in a style which can be appreciated by both fans of his punk band and his celtic-punk band and also people who had never heard of him. Highly original while at the same time showing a respect to the traditions that came before. Encompassing country, blues, acoustic, indie, bluegrass and both American and Irish folk music its his sincere approach to music coupled with him being an amazingly talented musician and his wonderful poetic lyrics that make this album a must have.