BrainStorm still hoping to conquer foreign shores

  • 2005-06-15
  • By Peter Walsh
RIGA - The extraordinary story of BrainStorm will no doubt be recorded in the annals of Latvian history with the sort of fanfare typically reserved for national heroes.

Tales will be recounted about the five young men from Jelgava who made catchy, quirky pop music with heart-warming lyrics and went on to become the country's most successful pop group. Legends will tell how the country adored them and they, in return, whether they were performing at Eurovision or opening for the Rolling Stones, proudly flew the flag for Latvia at every performance.

This group has always sought bigger things than sell-out concerts at Skonto Stadium or a "Best Group of the Year" prize at the Latvian Music Awards. Prata Vetra, as they are known in Latvian, want to make it in Europe. They are looking to be taken seriously by a wider audience.

Unpretentious and musically fluid, BrainStorm is a uniquely Latvian band. They are patriotic to the point that at one concert they even displayed a giant banner bearing an almost iconic image of the country's president. But does the group have what it takes to attract a fan base outside of Latvia?

On the strength of its new album "Four Shores," probably not. The group has returned to a more mainstream sound with this album, which is dedicated to their late bassist Mumins. But all its studio brainstorming seems unlikely to impress fans beyond the Baltics.

I wanted to like "Four Shores," I really did. I even played it several times over to try and endear it to my ears. But the problem is "Four Shores" lacks that certain something. BrainStorm may have had the lats behind them to afford big name producers and photographers to provide them with pretty black-and-white album covers, but no amount of costly studio time and pseudo-artistic band portraits could transform an essentially insipid album into something better.

Of the 10 songs that make up the album, only three are, to my ears, very good. The opening track "Four Shores" has that distinctive and slightly edgy sound that the group explored on its last album. It's a great song that makes particularly good use of lead singer Renars Kauper's wonderfully lucid and lively voice- arguably BrainStorm's best musical asset.

The second tune is "Pilots Tims," an upbeat piece of pop that will doubtless be added to the band's ever-burgeoning cannon of concert favorites. Everyone will doubtless sing along to this infectious piece of banality- but just because people simply love to sing along.

The next several songs 's it's a little hard to distinguish them from each other 'smerge into a sort of nondescript blur. I had to keep checking the CD case just to see what was going on.

Happily, things get better by the eighth track. "Masa Nakts" (Sister Night) is a beautifully atmospheric song whose mournful acoustic guitar and wailing accordion and string section give it a strangely Russian feel. "Masa Nakts" is followed by "Sunrise (Deep in Hell)," a catchy little number with funky guitar licks and a grinding organ that will have many a toe tapping. The album is rounded out with "Lapsa" (Fox), a rousing, belting, sing-along Latvian karaoke classic in the making.

Despite the idiosyncrasies of this album, I was recently in a bar enjoying a shot or two of vodka, when "Four Shores" came on. And it sounded absolutely wonderful in the moment and setting. This is the paradox of BrainStorm. In the context, I was smitten by it. Perhaps you just have to be in a Latvian bar or cafe for BrainStorm's music to really make sense.