Compelling collection of songs on Helēna’s new album

Singer songwriter Helēna Kozlova – or just simply Helēna – has released a new album, a full seventeen years after her last solo album (1999’s Stāsti). Recorded over the course of more than a dozen years, the album Tāluma tuvumā, her third solo album, was released in 2016.

Helēna, who sings, plays piano, guitar and flute, as well as being a lyricist, began performing with the indie gothic group Skumji Akmeņi in the mid-1990s, and later in the group Levīti in the early 2000s. Helēna also provided the track ‘Viens vienīgs vārds’ to the 2016 collection of songs Pretējības with lyrics by Latvian poet Aspazija.

Helēna’s piano performance begins the album, with the wistful instrumental ‘Valsis’. The melancholy and haunting waltz rather suddenly morphs into the second track ‘Trauksme’ – the instrumental continues, but in a much faster tempo, with an added dramatic tension.

Vocals and guitar then appear in the subsequent track ‘Ilgu vējš’. Helēna’s rich alto voice imbues this song of sadness and longing with a forlorn dreaminess, and the combination of just the guitar and wind effects adds to the sense of solitude presented in the song.

Helēna uses an almost childlike voice for the English language ‘Shine’, which corresponds with the perhaps intentionally childlike lyrics like ‘you make a desert in my mind’. Combined with a King Crimson-like guitar echo effect, the song is at once tender and delicate.

Though she writes most of the lyrics, for the track ‘Šūpuļdziesma’, Helēna uses the lyrics of Latvian poet Kārlis Skalbe. Skalbe’s mystical lyrics are given an equally mysterious musical accompaniment, and this lullaby, featuring guitarist Einārs Kvilis, makes for a particularly eerie listening experience.

Though much of the music on the album is tinged with melancholy and sadness, the song ‘Serafafa verandā’ is one of the cheerier and more energetic songs, but with its pastoral feel still blends in well with the other tracks on the album.

Helēna’s vocals may remind some listeners of Marta Kreituse of the band Zāle – perhaps then it is no surprise that Helēna recently shared a bill with Zāle, as both share a similar low key yet picturesque musical style.

The album closes with ‘Impro’ which, as its title suggests, is an improvisation. However, the track sounds more like various sound effects spliced together – it is mildly interesting, but, at nearly six minutes, begins to drag a bit. One wishes the artist had formed an actual song out of these clips, rather than try to create her own ‘Revolution 9’.

At times fragile and brittle, other times powerful and dramatic, Tāluma tuvumā is a long awaited return by Helēna Kozlova. Her hypnotic vocals and lyrics leave an impression on the listener, through this series of songs of quiet intensity. Though it took more than a decade to record and release, the album is a unique and notable achievement, and with her restrained and refined style, Helēna has created a compelling collection of songs.

Helena - taluma tuvuma 001

 

    Helēna

    Tālumā tuvumā
    NabaMusic/Melo Records, 2016

    Track listing:

    1. Valsis
    2. Trauksme
    3. Ilgu vējš
    4. Ieaijā
    5. Tās būs tās ilgas
    6. Austo kalnu miglā
    7. Shine
    8. Šūpuļdziesma
    9. Serafafa veranda
    10. Man patīk
    11. Impro

     

    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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