2 CD set features best songs by Dzelzs vilks

Latvian rock band Dzelzs vilks, with their aggressive music and bleak lyrics, has been plying their trade for more than a quarter century. Their songs have a broad range of musical styles, including elements of industrial, punk, and heavy metal music, but also folk and traditional elements. To celebrate their twenty-fifth anniversary, the group released a two CD set of their best songs – Dziesmas pilnmēness naktī – in 2016. The album collects songs from their many popular and acclaimed albums, such as 2003’s Ļauj man tevi, 2004’s Manās mājās sieviešu nav, and 2007’s Sārtā rītausma, among others.

The group, led by vocalist, guitarist and principal songwriter Juris Kaukulis, have achieved enduring popularity in Latvia for their very personal and emotional songs, often about failed and unhappy romantic entanglements, which have resonated with their listeners with their direct and often very explicit lyrics. Kaukulis’ distinct vocal style has been an integral part of their success, and one often hears pain and torment vividly in his vocals. Kaukulis is joined by Kaspars Tobis on synthesizers, drummer Mārcis Judzis and bassist Kārlis Aiviķis (though through most of their history, Armands Butkevičs provided bass).

Dark and foreboding elements are woven throughout their songs, such as ‘Draudzene nakts’, an ode to the approaching night, and, as noted by Kaukulis in the liner notes, the song was inspired in part by a tomcat that passed his window one midnight, and Kaukulis noticed the cat was missing an eye and an ear, and possibly some teeth as well. This dark image adds to the feeling of dread captured in Kaukulis’ vocals and lyrics.

Failed or short-lived relationships are often documented in detail in their songs, such as ‘Tev oranži mati’, ‘Vienas nakts meitene’, and ‘Vēlreiz’, with its cry of despair in lyrics like ‘Man vairs nav tev ko teikt, bet lūdzu ļauj aizmirst tevi’ (I have nothing further to say to you, but please let me forget you). Though deeply personal, the songs do occasionally veer into the territory of self-parody, such as on the silly ‘Dibenā rautais disko’ (a song so vulgar, Judzis requested that the song not be performed at one concert, as his mother was in the audience).

A particularly striking track is ‘Sažņaudz manas rokas’ (from 2009’s Dzelzs vilka teātris), which was the title song for the theatrical production of ‘Tas trakais, trakais Harijs’ (directed by Dž. Dž. Džilindzērs), and featuring vocalist Ilze Ķuzule-Skrastiņa. The song, built on an ominous sliding guitar riff, like many of their songs, expresses sentiments of alienation in lyrics like ‘Enģeļi tevi mīlēt nepratīs’ (Angels will not know how to love you).

Though the group’s history began in 1991, the earliest recording on this collection is 1997’s ‘Ja būtu man spārni’, a song whose rawness is in sharp contrast to their more polished recent recordings. Displaying a more hardcore approach, with heavily distorted guitars and growling, almost death metal-like vocals, the song still contains many elements that are still a part of their music today.

Dzelzs vilks have also dabbled in folk music with memorable results, particularly on their album Uijā uijā nikni vilki, released in 2008, and have collaborated with other folklore ensembles like Forshpil, and even created their own folklore ensemble – the Jauno Jāņu orķestris. This collection does not include any songs from their folk music explorations, which is unfortunate, as these were some of their strongest and most memorable efforts. Perhaps the group wanted to focus on their rock oeuvre on this collection, but leaving out their works in the folk genre disregards a large section of their creative output, and denies many potential new listeners from hearing this material.

Dziesmas pilnmēness naktī is a comprehensive and thorough display of Dzelzs vilks’ quarter century of uncompromising performances. The group has recorded many memorable songs throughout the years, and has shown a remarkable consistency in quality during this time. Though some may find it challenging to listen to songs that are almost uniformly bleak and somber, their words speak to many listeners with their directness and emotional frankness. Maintaining this kind of intensity for so many years is an admirable feat, and, as this collection shows, Dzelzs vilks have built up an impressive and memorable repertoire.

For further information, please visit the Dzelzs vilks website.

Dziesmas pilnmēness naktī

Dzelzs vilks

Upe tuviem un tāliem, UPEtt CD089, 2016

Track listing:

    CD1

  1. Viņa grib tik daudz
  2. Tu vilki nakti
  3. Tev oranži mati
  4. Skaiti līdz trīs
  5. Sažņaudz manas rokas
  6. Mēness
  7. Draudzene nakts
  8. Vienas nakts meitene
  9. Balerina
  10. Ļauj man tevi
  11. Bīstami vārdi
    CD2

  1. Auksto staru gaisma
  2. Meitene no sirds
  3. Manās mājās sieviešu nav
  4. Pret sienu
  5. Cilpa zem tilta (Miesnieks)
  6. Vilks
  7. Vēlreiz
  8. Dibenā rautais disko
  9. Dievi krīt
  10. Rīts
  11. Ziema
  12. Ledus
  13. Klau klau (cik sēri zvani)
  14. Ja būtu man spārni

 

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.

Iļģi latest album “Tur kur mīti” a meditative look at Latvian myths

After a five year pause after their last album, 2011’s Tur saulīte pērties gāja, Latvian post folk ensemble Iļgi return with Tur kur mīti, released at the end of 2016, their latest collection of songs inspired by Latvian folk music and songs. As with most all of their albums, there is a thematic thread woven through all the songs, and this time it is myths and mystical elements.

The title of the album, Tur kur mīti, (as per the group, the lack of a comma is intentional), is actually a play on words, as ‘mīti’ can be both interpreted as ‘myths’, but the title can also be interpreted as ‘The place where you dwell’.

The group’s members remain unchanged, with Ilga Reizniece on vocals and violin, Māris Muktupāvels on vocals, kokle and accordion, Gatis Gaujenieks on vocals and bass guitar, guitarist Egons Kronbergs, and drummer Mārtiņš Linde.

In keeping with the mystical themes, the songs on the album have more of an ethereal, mysterious atmosphere about them. The reserved and reflective nature of the songs might be a surprise to those listeners that enjoy more their lively, energetic songs, like the ones on Sēju vēju or Kaza kāpa debesīs, but fans who enjoyed calmer albums like Totāri or Kur saulīte pērties gāja will find much to enjoy here. Muktupāvels has mentioned that he expects their next album to be livelier.

The ambling nature of many of the songs on the album becomes clear with the first track, ‘Laima’, about the nature of this Latvian goddess of good fortune and luck, which also appropriately features guest kokle performer Laima Jansone, and the sounds of the kokle add a dreamlike quality to the song.

The tempo does pick up slightly on the song ‘Vilki’, a song about giving a wolf gifts of bread and socks to discourage him from taking the young goat. The narrator even warns the little goat about the kind of clothes the wolf wears – a short jumper and well-heeled boots. The song is inspired by a winter solstice children’s game (December is considered ‘The Month of the Wolf’ in Latvian folklore), where the goats run away from the wolf.

A driving Gaujenieks bass line forms the foundation for the song ‘Istabā’, which is then built on with Kronbergs’ guitar and Muktupāvels’ accordion, and then features Reizniece’s violin, and is a song with Roma-like elements, particularly in the chorus. Muktupāvels’ characteristically deep bass voice gives the lyrics a chant-like nature.

The album concludes with what is certainly one of the most beautiful songs the group has ever recorded, ‘Kumeliņi’ (though in the CD booklet the song is called ‘Jūriņa’). This tender, almost lullaby-like song about two yellow horses that emerge from the sea, forms a fitting end to this album of mystical tales and creatures and this journey through the many facets and legends of Latvian folklore.

The album booklet includes all the lyrics with English translations, but one wishes they had taken the opportunity to provide a bit more detail about the legends and myths that they are singing about, so those less familiar with Latvian folklore would appreciate the songs even more.

Though, when one does reach the end of the album, one does get the sense that perhaps they could have included one or two more upbeat numbers on the record, especially when considering their previous album was similarly low-key. Granted, the intention of the album was to be a meditation on myths, but Iļgi are often at their best when they perform more energetic songs. Still, Tur kur mīti remains yet another example of why Iļģi, over their more than 35 year career, with their modern interpretations of Latvian folk songs and texts, have achieved worldwide fame and recognition – the ancient, mystical words and melodies remain just as vital and relevant in a contemporary setting and interpretation.

For further information, please visit the Iļģi website at www.ilgi.lv

Tur kur mīti

Iļģi
2016

Track listing:

      1. Laima
      2. Istaba
      3. Oši
      4. Māra
      5. Jumis
      6. Koki
      7. Pele
      8. Vilks
      9. Kumeliņi

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.

Latvian folk ensemble Zāle release their second album “Viņš”

The ensemble Zāle combine many elements in their music – from Latvian folk, to Eastern motifs to Gaelic elements, and their debut album, Viņa, released in 2015, received the Zelta Mikrofons award for Best World Music Album in 2015. The group released the follow up – appropriately entitled Viņš – at the end of 2016.

The core of the group remains Marta Kreituse on vocals and Pēteris Draguns on vocals and acoustic guitar, and they are joined by an ever-expanding group of musicians, including Sandra Kaņepe on vocals and electric guitar, Kira Maija Kirsanova on oboe, Aivis Gailītis on cello, Dace Zariņa on bass guitar, Harijs Vagrants playing the santir, and Taras Kuzmenko on percussion, as well as a few guest musicians.

Though the ensemble is large, the arrangements remain sparse and reserved, retaining the intimate nature of the songs from their first album. This is evident beginning with the first track on the album, “Aiz vārtiem”, based on a poem by Rainis. Draguns’ soothing, deep bass voice, along with the solemn, somber musical accompaniment, provides a template for the listener about the musical journey to come.

While the album Viņa had more Latvian folk elements in the music, Viņš takes a decided turn towards more world music elements, particularly Eastern sounds and melodies, such as in the song “Samarkanda”, which features Kreituse’s mystical vocals balanced with the strings and oboe, to create a dreamy effect for the song.

With a nod to the group’s various world music influences, particularly the Celtic sounds, the group also recorded a version of the Irish folk song “My Young Love” (also known as “She Moved Through the Fair”), and it is a natural fit for Kreituse’s voice and performance. The ensemble bring the necessary restraint in their lush arrangement for this sorrowful song, making for one of the most memorable performances on the album.

The album does have a few relatively up-tempo moments, such as in the song “Vantis”, a song about a journey over the Vanšu Bridge in Riga, described in philosophical and metaphorical images. The song’s driving beat and rhythm is supplemented by the hip hop stylings of Jacques of S’T’A.

The album’s title Viņš (He) would seem to indicate that this album would be a more ‘masculine’ album, implying perhaps more up-tempo and active songs, to balance out the softer, emotional songs on the album Viņa (She), but this is not always the case. Perhaps the titles were simply meant to indicate that the albums are two sides of the same coin, as there are many similar elements between the two.

Viņš is a satisfying follow-up to Viņa, as the group builds upon the themes of their debut album, adding additional instruments and more nuanced arrangements, seamlessly weaving together many different styles and genres, making Viņš an engrossing listen from beginning to end. With their ethereal, entrancing sound, Zāle have established themselves as a creative and artistic force in Latvian music.

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

Viņš

Zāle
Kultūras Inovāciju Centrs, 2016

Track listing:

      1. Aiz vārtiem
      2. Samarkanda
      3. Meitene – noslēpums
      4. Ūdens daļa
      5. Kiss Me
      6. Vantis
      7. Tumša upe
      8. Skumju zvēri
      9. Cik sapņa izmodos
      10. My Young Love
      11. Dziļi dziļi

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.