Singer, songwriter, producer, DJ, and record company director Ainars Mielavs has long been a significant presence in Latvian music. Starting in the late 1980s when, with the group Jauns Mēness, he became one of the most recognizable vocalists in Latvia, and the group became one of the most popular ensembles in Latvia during the 1990s. At the start of the 21st century, Jauns Mēness went on extended hiatus and Mielavs became a solo artist (though he did keep the core of Jauns Mēness in his solo ensemble). Later he renamed the ensemble Mielavs un Pārcēlāji (after one of Jauns Mēness’ earliest hits – the song “Pārcēlājs”) and, most recently, in 2015, the group released its latest album – Atsaukties.
In his music and lyrics, Mielavs has frequently combined various influences, including the Celtic rock of U2 (particularly during the Jauns Mēness years), and the introspective lyricism of Peter Gabriel, as well as Latvian folk music. Mielavs’ distinctive vocal style also was a major aspect of Jauns Mēness’ and his solo success, particularly as he moved away from the rock approach to a more ballad like approach – like in his hit “Tu saviļņoji mani”.
Seven years have passed since the group’s last album of original material – 2008’s Bezgalīga lēna deja. However, Mielavs remained busy during that time, releasing the albums Nospiedumi (2009)and Nospiedumi 2 (2012), collections of cover songs performed by himself and friends, as well as 2011’s Latviešu romances, a collection of well-known Latvian ballads such as “Miglā asaro logs” and “Vēl tu rozes plūc”.
Though Jauns Mēness is no longer active, the group Mielavs un Pārcēlāji retains much of the core of Jauns Mēness – besides vocalist Mielavs, there is also guitarist and music co-author Gints Sola, drummer Juris Kroičs, guitarist Aigars Voitišķis, and Jānis Stafeckis on double bass.
Atsaukties, as Mielavs himself has said, is a particularly autobiographical record, inspired by many events in his life, particularly during childhood. Mielavs often paints vivid pictures with his lyrics, and one such example “Par Daini un krievu kaimiņiem”, a story of a childhood neighbor of Mielavs – Dainis – as well as some Russian neighbors. Mielavs returns to this childhood scene with a nuanced portrait of Dainis – a frequent drunk who also showed tenderness to the young boy – “Dainis dzēra un kāvās, bet pieplaka vienmēr” (Dainis drank and fought, but always was kind to me). Mielavs balances the bitter reality of adulthood with the optimism of youth in this engrossing song.
Further childhood memories are related in the song “Gandrīz”, a song about accidents that almost happened to him, and, even though these terrible things (including almost getting hit by a car on two separate occasions) were close to happening, the optimism was not lost – “Es turpinu balināt matus ar bērnības saules stariem” (I continue to bleach my hair with the sunshine of childhood).
Aspects of adult life are presented in parallel with childhood games in the song “Kaļimbamba”, a children’s game (similar to Red Rover) where one team demands that a member of the other team tries to break through their line. Guitarist Gints Sola has always been an integral part of the music, in both Jauns Mēness and Mielavs’ solo work, and this is one of the few songs on the album to have a heavier tone and allows Sola to move to the forefront.
Also in 2015, author Jānis Žilde published his book on the history of the group Jauns Mēness – entitled Piekūns skrien debesīs (published by “Dienas grāmata”, 207 pages). The book provides biographies of the band members, and follows the history and successes (and also endeavors that were less successful) of the group from the 1980s until today. The book also provides an honest description of the challenges and difficulties of achieving success in the music industry, particularly in Latvia.
Still, at the end of this relaxed and mellow album one does wish that Mielavs would stray out of his comfort zone and go into a higher gear and take a chance or two. Though he has not lost his knack to write a catchy melody with thought-provoking lyrics, Atsaukties will be for some, quite familiar and reassuring territory and, for others, maddeningly restrained. In fact, during a recent concert in Riga, it seemed that drummer Juris Kroičs has to use all of his available self-control to not start whaling away at the drums. Only at the end of the concert, with songs like “Kad mēness jūra krīt” and “Ai, jel manu vieglu prātu” did things start getting truly lively.
Clearly, Mielavs is satisfied and happy with his particular Latvian folk ballad niche, and Atsaukties is certainly one of his better efforts in this field. Though musically it may cover already well known ground, lyrically Mielavs’ personal and autobiographical lyrics provide a depth that is rare in Latvian popular music today. Backed by some of the most talented musicians in Latvia, the album is one of Mielavs’ most memorable efforts, showing that, even after thirty years, Mielavs retains his unique voice, lyrical style, and ability to make compelling music.
For further information, please visit the Mielavs un Pārcēlāji website.
Mielavs un Pārcēlāji
Upe, UPEAMCD003, 2015
- Vieni un otri
- Latvju zīmes
- Ar sakniebtām lūpām pa liepu gatvi
- Par Daini un krievu kaimiņiem
- Zelta skalošana
- Ķīvītes, dzērves un mēs
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