RIGA - For "the land that sings," Latvia hasn't produced much in the area of rock, pop and alternative music. Besides the ubiquitous BrainStorm, with three platinum albums and a trail of music awards behind them, there have been few bands to really make a mark for the Baltics. Yet the almosts are aplenty.
The Movies is very much an almost. Almost alternative, almost original, almost catchy, almost good - but not quite. It's as if they come so close in every area: vocals, instrumentals, lyrics, rhythm, but they just can't give what our ears want to hear. It's really too bad, for my ears and yours.
At best, their latest album "Running to the Sun" (Melo Records) takes an acquired taste. It's a bit like Latvian Kvass: At first you recoil, and almost have to force it down. Then, upon second try, you realize it's not that bad and actually finish the bottle. By the third time around, you're quite used to the off-tasting fermented barley beverage. You might even say you like it, but never more than that.
I personally acquired a taste for The Movies the fourth time around. It was the disk's sixth track, "Falling Down" that caught my attention. Actually, it was just the first song where my nerves could finally settle, after being rather on edge from the vocalist's adolescent attempt at an Alanis Morisette wail.
Unlike the previous five, the song truly did warm me over. Lead singer Ksenija Sundejeva's voice was actually rather angelic; raspy with a trace of sadness. I played the song over a few times to catch the lyrics, "The stars are a thousand times brighter with you . . ." How sweet, I thought. And the thought was genuine.
Feeling a bit on the benevolent side, I returned to track one, "26," to give the album a second chance. The song opens with a mix of electronics and a backdrop of international news reports mentioning the U.N., Iraq and other recent headlines 's just to remind us that their music has a political message in case we miss it (I did). Then the track bursts into Moby-inspired cosmic electronica and drums, while Ksenija repeats "Whoah, never make a sound." Whatever her sardonic message may have been, it was over my head. But the song has a decent beat and I even found myself tapping my foot.
The Movies call themselves alternative. Alternative they may be, but to me the group sounded more like the high-school garage band your best friend played in. When he asked you if you thought they had a chance, you forced a smile and said, "Yeah, the music's great. I just love how you use a tambourine - it's so alternative." And then you felt a lump of guilt in your stomach.
Next to "Falling Down," my favorite track on the album is "Crossroads." This is probably because the song has a nice Radio Head sound to it, and therefore is purely unoriginal. But again, the sweetness of her voice warmed me over. I expect that Latvian men will melt at the sound. And this is The Movies' best chance.