Manta’s album “Karaliene Anna” stretches musical boundaries

Guitarist, singer and songwriter Edgars Šubrovskis has been, for decades now, a leading figure and creative force in the Latvian alternative music scene. With groups like Hospitāļu iela, Gaujarts, and, most recently, Manta, his distinctive vocals and creative songs have found a large audience in Latvia and elsewhere.

Manta’s self-titled debut album was released in 2014, and, with its quirky, catchy songs, at times humorous, at times menacing, as well as its retro electronic sound (courtesy of producer Ingus Baušķenieks, of Latvian electronic music innovators Dzeltenie pastnieki), was a landmark in Latvian alternative music. In fact, the album won the Zelta mikrofons award for best alternative album.

Manta returned with their follow-up album – Karaliene Anna – in 2017, again recorded and mixed by Baušķenieks, and which continued the development of the group’s sound and music in multiple different directions, some expected, and some unexpected and difficult. On the record, Šubrovskis is joined by Edgars Mākens on keyboards, Oskars Upenieks on synthesizers, and Raitis Viļumovs on percussion.

Even before the first listen, the album cover and booklet immediately give warning that this will be a darker and bleaker album. With its dark tones and blurry pictures, it is clear that this may be a challenging musical journey for some. Somber keyboard tones open the first track – ‘Zīme’, a song simply chronicling the staggered journey of a drunken man along the street, eventually collapsing. With its sound effects and dark, atmospheric sounds, this song sets the stage for the album, with Šubrovskis’ vocals at once dour and resonant.

The group certainly has more ambitious musical plans on Karaliene Anna, stretching musical boundaries, such as on the nearly nine minute space rock epic ‘Pārestības’. The lyrics, tinged with bitterness and sadness, provide the introduction to the extended jam that concludes the song, perhaps indicating a solitary journey in the vast emptiness of space.

The titular queen Anna has died, and the song is presented as a requiem for her (though, as is often the case in Šubrovskis’ songs, who might this queen be and why her death is so significant is unclear), however, the song is one of the most beautiful on the album, with its haunting synthesizer tones on top of a mournful piano melody.

The intentionally archaic electronic sounds frequently heard on the album are used with great effect on the song ‘Eva Eva’, a song that again has a twinge of romantic sadness, particularly in lyrics like ‘Pāris sadodas rokās. Tas ir tik skaisti. Bet mēs tie neesam.’ (A couple join hands, that is so beautiful – but it is not us).

One can perhaps see parallels in the progression from their 2014 album to Karaliene Anna in the progression of Šubrovskis’ earlier ensemble Hospitāļu iela. Their 2004 album Pilnmēness was also full of quirky, catchy songs, but subsequent albums (2005’s Nav centrs and 2007’s Pūķis became more and more eclectic and challenging). Perhaps Šubrovskis gravitates towards bleaker themes and sounds, as his singing style in many songs makes them sound like funeral dirges, with their slow and weighty vocals. Though Karaliene Anna was clearly meant as a gloomier, weightier album, one does miss the occasional flash of humor that appears in Šubrovskis’ songs.

Listeners who were hoping for a continuation of the unconventional yet catchy songs on their debut album may find the musical turns on Karaliene Anna to be difficult to follow, if not overly dreary. The album is also a far cry from the often light-hearted tunes from the earlier days of Hospitāļu iela. With its bleak and sorrowful songs, the album is emotionally draining to listen to. Still, those familiar with all the aspects of Šubrovskis’ long career will still find much familiar here, as well as many new sonic explorations and creative arrangements. With its dark tones and color palette, Karaliene Anna is often challenging, periodically rewarding, and another unexpected twist in the musical career of Edgars Šubrovskis.

For further information, please visit Manta’s Facebook page.

Karaliene Anna

Manta

Biedrība HI, 2017

Track listing:

  1. Zīme
  2. Rudensziema
  3. Halo
  4. Tьматериатьизм
  5. Krīspadsmit
  6. Pārestības
  7. Karaliene Anna
  8. Eva Eva
  9. Kaste ar sirdīm
  10. 8 bitu halo
  11. Bērni

 

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area who lives in Rīga, Latvia. When not working in the information technology field, he sings in the Latvian Academy of Culture mixed choir Sõla, does occasional translation work, and has been known to sing and play guitar at the Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs in Old Rīga. Kaljo began listening to Latvian music as soon as he was able to put a record on a record player, and still has old Bellacord 78 rpm records lying around somewhere.

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