American pop, made in Latvia

Listening to Numbvision by The Hobos, a new Rīga pop-rock foursome, you might not think you’re hearing a Latvian band at all. Here are 12 tracks, all in English, that could well have been the work of a young but solid Middle American band.

That must be the charm and appeal of The Hobos, led by singer and lyricist Rolands Ūdris. Songs like “Christian (I’m Gonna Be)” and “She Sounds Like a Little Child” rose quickly in the Latvian radio charts when the album was released late last year.

But why? Put up against other bands that can be heard on the radio, The Hobos are nothing special. Despite the characterization of Ūdris as a poet, the lyrics on many of these songs are not all that outstanding. The musicianship is fine, but again not out of the ordinary. Then why was this album flying off store shelves at Christmas and why does the band continue to be a favorite for concerts? Perhaps because The Hobos prove that even in Rīga you can get good homemade North American pop.

Much of the credit here must go to Ūdris, who has spent some time on this side of the Atlantic, as you’ll quickly tell from his voice, which lacks the usual Eastern European twists on English pronunciation. But it’s also evident in the lyrics, which frequently feel like they’re written from an American sensibility, rather than from anything Latvian. Even the name of the band, The Hobos, makes allusion to a distinctly American character in a distinctly American era. (And, yes, we did check several dictionaries, all of which say the origins of the word “hobo” are unknown.)

Besides Ūdris, the members of The Hobos include Mārtins Burkevics on bass and background vocals, Egons Kronbergs on guitars and Vilnis Krieviņš on drums.

Of the dozen songs on this album, there are several standouts. “Christian (I’m Gonna Be)”—a song not about being born again—laughs at the facility with which some people change their convictions. “Reminiscence of a Funny Face” has a clown searching for greater meaning in his life. “Lululu,” another of those songs about the simplicity of love, is simply wonderful. And “Surrender,” featuring Alexander Sircov on a speaker-rattling bass, is a great tune even if the lyrics might be lost on some listeners.

In interviews in Latvian media, Ūdris and other band members have talked about the art of their songs. We have to agree that Numbvision is not just about being able to do a solid English-language album. These songs do have their pensive aspects, but we also believe that Ūdris could have applied himself a bit more to the craft of his poetry. The metaphors and similes used—for example, “she sounds like a little child,” the clown in the circus, “feeling like a hobo”—often seem too facile. Perhaps that’s because English is not his native tongue (we weren’t overly thrilled with the license he took in translating some of Renārs Kaupers’ lyrics on the English version of Prāta Vētra’s Starp divām saulēm album).

For a debut album, however, we also have to tell The Hobos, “Cepuri nost!,” for their efforts on this project. Earlier this year, Ūdris told the youth magazine S that artistic achievement is more important to the band than commercial success. These guys have the potential for both.

(Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on the site.)



The Hobos

Platforma Records,  1999

PRCD 037

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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