Baltic notes: the best in music

  • 2005-11-16
If music be the food of love, then Baltic music is pretty heart grub, as we hope you'll discover with our CD special showcasing some of the best new music around. At the moment, Baltic music is still mostly just that, as it rarely gets beyond local borders. But there is no shortage of talent out there, and we at TBT want to do our bit to give it a boost. The thriving local music scene is hardly lucrative for those involved, but their sheer love of music keeps it going. We've put together a brief guide to some of the best new albums around for you to enjoy, and hopefully inspire you to explore even more new Baltic music.

"World Lullabies"

(Radio SWH)

"World Lullabies" is the 10th compilation album in the immensely popular Lullaby series. Once again Radio SWH DJ Klass Vavere has been trawling through his record collection to pick out some of his favorite songs, and as usual the result is a little inspired, a little trite and a little baffling.

This is definitely one of the better Lullaby albums, if you consider that World Music is still a relative unknown in Latvia, excluding the odd night out in a Turkish restaurant.

The album stays true to the mellow and gently melancholy nature of all the previous Lullaby collections, beginning with several beautifully atmospheric songs. Geoffrey Oryema's "Land of Anaka" is a delight, as is Pepesito Reyes' "Begin the Beguine." Chicherina may be new Russia, but their sound is distinctly old Russia. The Armenian duduk virtuoso Djivan Gasparyan also features on a brilliantly sparse and haunting track with Canadian Michael Brook.

The 1960 Greek song "Pame Mia Volta Sto Fegari" by Melina Merkouri is another standout song, and perfectly encapsulates the sublimely cheesy Lullaby esthetic.

But as usual there are several crowd pleasers, doubtlessly thrown in to appeal to the wider Latvian public. Cesaria Evora is probably the first singer that springs to mind when most Latvians think of world music, and the Portuguese fado singer Mariza is also a relatively well-known figure after her recent Riga concert. And why on earth is there a song from the film "Frida" here?

But on the whole this is an impressive collection and I am sure it will be providing the background music for many Riga cafes over the next few months, at least until the next Lullaby album comes out. (P.W.)

Mielavs un Parcelaji

"Paruna ar sevi"

(Upe Records)

Ainars Mielavs' voice is enough to lull anyone into a dreamy sleep. Alongside BrainStorm's Renars Kaupers, he is one of the few Latvian musicians whose vocal chords alone have won over the heart of a country. Since beginning the band Jauns Meness alongside Gints Sola in 1987, the singer has become one of Latvia's most beloved. Art Troitsky, a distinguished rock critic, once called Jauns Meness 'the most impressive if not the only example of Baltic rock.'

Although now playing under a new name, Mielavs & Parcelaji (Mielavs and the Ferrymen), the artist's latest album, 'Paruna ar Sevi' (Talk to Yourself) carries just as much warmth and beauty as his previous. The sound of Mielavs' lyrics, whether understood or not, will bring a lump to your throat. Juris Kroics adds a soft and sandy percussion background while Sola plays either guitar, banjo or mandolin. Together, the trio is sublime. As my friend aptly put it, the album makes you want to crawl into bed with a warm tea.

Most of the songs are written in traditional Latvian folk-song spirit; romantic stories about sun-dappled meadows, Midsummer's night, the Baltic Sea, courageous men and broken-hearted women. Each song has its own charm and none are better than the others. The music works together as a whole, and from beginning to end, it will move you. (E.C.)


"Post Sov Pop"

(Bomba Records)

InCulto grew to fame last year with their first madcap performances in Vilnius 's one on the roof of a building in Vokieciu Street - and they've been a favorite ever since. Fronted by Columbia-born Lithuanian Jurgis, InCulto is always best at throwing a party for its audience. Their captivating music brightens every mood, and the band's energy on stage is highly contagious.

InCulto is probably one of the country's best pop-rock groups today. Although their music is a mix of punk/jazz/pop swept up in a Latin American sound, it cannot be labelled as any of these. The combination could be called 'proper pop' because no other term gives it accurate justice.

InCulto's debut album is fun from beginning to end. Articulate singing, sharp guitar, and an abundance of brass make it a well-orchestrated album.

The band is a melting pot experiment where the listener can experience the unofficial 'spanglitski' language.

"Post Sov Pop" was originally supposed to be the official name of the debut album, but the sponsors thought it wasn't such a bright idea. Nevertheless, the band managed to keep it as an unofficial album name and as a conceptual beacon for the record's ideology.

The album includes two remakes: "Suk, Suk, Rateli" from Lithuanian and "Jei Labai Nori" from a Columbian folk song. Although remaking popular tunes always seems the easiest way to win audiences, the guys are still worth the credit 's at least they do it well.

All in all, "Post Sov Pop" is a great CD. With its increased clarity in bass and live songs, this album gives every ska/jazz InCulto fan what they've been asking for. (M.S.)

Lauri Saatpalu & Katrin Mandel,

"Sa Oled Hea"

(Hyper Records)

This is a work in nostalgia. It is evident in both lyrics and melody. Lauri Saatpalu and Katrin Mandel did an excercise in re-interpretation. In fact, these are Estonian Songs from the '60s and '70s, given new light and new exposure through this narrative-based album.

The album starts with the title track, a loosely swingish one, and continues with recognizable jazz and swing elements, as is the case of track number two, with a very powerful sax feeling. Katrin Mandel makes her appearance in the following song, characterised by an up-beat tempo, almost a jungle reference. Mandel's powerful impression resurfaces again in tracks six, nine and twelve. In general, Mandel provides the slightly moving element to the album. Saatpalu's narrative style is very clear in "Su Aknast Naen," a song that is perfect for a long solitary drive, with extremely well-crafted lyrics and heightened sensitivity.

The poetry and the timeless feeling of the album is crystal-clear in subsequent songs, most notably track eight, which goes by the name "Motisklus."

"Sa Oled Hea" is a twofold testimony to Estonian music and art: first it gives credit to immortal songs from the nation's musical landscape and the beauty of the language. Secondly, it is a quintessential piece that carves the talents of Saatpalu and Mandel in stone. It's just a pity that the album has only one duet. Their complimentary voices should have been used more. (R.M.)

D.J. Critikal, "Chapter One Ehk Teine Maitse"

(Mindnote Record)

From a past filled with drum 'n bass beats, Critikal is back. And he's back rapping - through beats, sounds, emotions, and experiences. It is this experience that forms the essential element of "Chapter One." As the name implies, we can expect more. A second chapter, seasoned with vocals, will be ready by 2006.

"Chapter One" knows no borders. To define or give parameters to this work is as arduous as it is inconclusive. The piece that lasts for almost an hour starts with samples reminiscent of break-beats and triphop jungle. It starts with "Sisse," an artwork in itself. The ability of D.J. Critical to elegantly mix and impose different sounds into one defining musical and melodic narrative is impressive. And this goes on with "B-Poissid," "O'Pato," "Suveohtud Lahtise Aknaga Virmalises / Suitsetatud Paus," and "Liigub." All of these songs exhibit an encyclopedic variety, from vocal fragments, melodic rifts, to beats and sounds, making them a masterly work in assemblage.

"Chapter One" goes on with its own agenda 's a wake-up call to underground music. It does so fervently, stylishly. The influence of such artists as the Beastie Boys is evident throughout the album with songs like "Parl," "Digi Clove," and "All Dirt." In my opinion, it's one of the most impressive exercises in sampling ever. If listened to very carefully, one gets the feeling of being into a museum of fragments all hailing from a musical landscape ranging through time and space. It is definitely an important buy - a Critikal one. (R.M.)


"Aukso Pieva"

(Golden Field)

Singer and songwriter Jurga is a remarkable young talent and her debut album, "Aukso Pieva" (Golden Field) is a balm to many Lithuanians tired of mainstream pop. But it's not easy to explain who Jurga actually is: her unparalleled sound is truly special, unlike anyone else's.

The woman's voice and poetic lyrics stamp her work with originality. Her spellbindingly hypnotic vocals combine massive vocal spires with delicate, soft-spoken singing.

Fans of contemporary folk, dream pop, or just good music are sure to appreciate this album, which starts with the title song "Aukso Pieva." The track begins on a weaving tune with Jurga's serene vocals, and definitely sets the mood for the record. In general, the album is mellow, but more than just cafe background music. Despite its 'alternativeness,' the song "Nebijok" (Don't Be Afraid) has taken radio charts by storm, breaking the on-air domination of cheesy Lithuanian pop. This song alone makes the album worth purchasing.

The remainder of "Aukso Pieva" is packed with poetic lyrics that make the songs potent and beautiful. Written largely by Jurga, the songs chant about nature, people and love. Jurga works with much-admired songwriter and producer Andrius Mamontovas, and his influence adds unbelievable depth to the album.

Although the songs on "Aukso Pieva" are limited in variety, it is still a consistent and original album. Jurga's unique stylistics give her a full and catchy sound. When the CD's over, it will be the voice you remember - soulful, passionate, and alive. (M.S.)

Terminaator, "GO Live"

(Hyper Records)

"Go Live" represents the essence of this progressive Estonian metal band. They have been around for more than a decade - 15 years to be exact - and this release, accompanied by a bonus DVD that encapsulates the feeling of Terminaator Live in Concert, is more than any dedicated fan could ask for.

As soon as you start the CD, you realize the eminent claim to stardom that this domestic Metal quintet have defined in their genre. Each song represents a step in the journey of a band that was always true to its own style and spirit. The first track starts immediately with their usual timbre: strong guitar riffs, a long instrumental piece, and an extremely progressive sound. The album keeps the momentum up through track five, where we feel a synth introduction and powerful chorus from an electrified crowd. Listeners can really get a taste of the band's ability, and the guitarist in particular, to play fast in track eight. The song "Ainult Sina Void mu Maailma Muuta' claims intimacy, with the singer and a piano melody defining the personal engagement of this band with the crowd. The journey gets on speed again, and ends with a powerful metal tinge where the singer interacts with the crowds.

This 13-piece journey to the essence of Terminaator is a perfect collectable piece for both veteran fans and newcomers. (R.M.)