Gain Fast’s second album heads in wrong direction

Tas nav uz zemes šīs

Gain Fast’s first album came out in 2007 with a decent amount of commotion—a new concoction of musically inclined, fresh-faced guys with a heart for alternative (possibly Christian) rock. What’s not to like?

But it was entirely by accident and surprise that I learned of the group’s second album Tas nav uz zemes šīs, which came out in 2008 somewhat quietly and with unfortunately little to show for itself. That being said, what one might expect to be a “big bang” before Gain Fast would be put on pause instead, for the most part turns out to be a little lethargic and disappointing.

Since then there hasn’t been much said of the group and, after putting out its sophomore effort the guys decided to take a “well-deserved break.” Several of the group’s members are trying their hands at different projects, among them lead singer Kaspars Zlidnis, who not only has put out a solo single, but has started making on-screen appearances (as the host of the Latvian youth reality TV show “Jaunie Rīgas sargi” (The New Defenders of Rīga) as well as starring in the movie Somebody).

Tas nav uz zemes šīs came out after the release of three singles, “Smaids” (Smile), “Cik laimīgi esam” (How Lucky We Are) and the title track “Tas nav uz zemes šīs” (It’s Not in this World). Gain Fast is made up of Zlidnis (vocals), Didzis Bardovskis (bass), Andžejs Grauds (drums), Gatis Vanags (guitar) and Oskars Tretjuks (keyboard).

The first track of Tas nav uz zemes šīs, “Man nevajag sirdi” (I Don’t Need a Heart), has a funk underbeat to it and is very laid back. But it completely lacks the drive of the first album and does nothing to make me want to keep listening on. The only reason I do keep listening is because I’m waiting for Track 3, “Cik laimīgi esam.”

“Cik laimīgi esam” would technically be my favorite track of the album, though in hindsight I understand it’s more for how the song sounds instead of what it is. The lyrics aren’t all that original. In truth what first drew me to the song was the music video for it. Catchy ‘80s guitar and keyboard combinations lead you through a message about how people take their lives for granted and how even when something is going well, we’re reluctant to admit this is so. I take the song as a nice homage to the double-negative way of looking at the world that Latvians are so accustomed to expressing. The sound is a little reminiscent of the group’s first album, and is at least more dynamic than the first track. I also definitely suggest checking out the corresponding music video.

After that the album is rather unrefined sounding. There are parts where I actually cringe at what I’m hearing and I start to think I know why the album wasn’t highly publicized. Although the album has merit in that each song is different from the last, there isn’t a lot to write home about, unless you count cynical cut-downs. Like the title track? Gaaah! Longest four minutes and 15 seconds of my life. But then oh, scratch that, because I hadn’t been introduced to Track 10 yet.

Another of the album’s “hits” is “Smaids,” which has a more polished sound to it, but is relatively sappy for my tastes. The song is, however, a bit more of a favorite than “Cik laimīgi esam” because of the lyrics: “Vārdu tik daudz šai pasaulē, bet izmantojam mēs tikai nedaudz no tiem. Vai vēlies būt vel tuvāk, vel mazliet tuvāk tikai nedaudz?”

It’s kind of a despair-ridden questioning plea that does pull on the heartstrings. The song also sounds less cookie-cutter because of the breaks in Zlidnis’ voice as he belts out the higher notes. It’s the most grown-up and real sounding piece of the album.

What irks me the most about this compact disc is the incessant use of words like life, heart, love, feelings and togetherness. No, I’m neither jilted nor an emotional void; I’ve cried during a peanut butter commercial before. These words just strike a chord and leave me with two disturbing thoughts: 1) are these words that the music business thinks tween and teenage girls want to and will swoon over? and 2) Dear Lord, are these words that I, as a teenage girl, swooned over?

It’s at this point that I wonder if it’s OK to feel embarrassed or want to take back my gushing response to the band’s first album in 2007, Viss mainījies. But then I go back and listen it and see that there has been a gross decrease in quality. Tas nav uz zemes šīs sits stunted in comparison to its older sibling. Luckily, such online music stores as Platforma Music or DoReMi provide picky listeners such as myself the option of only buying the few tracks that stand out.

The music is all over the place and not in a good way. I can’t really make heads or tails of all of it, minus the two songs I’ve mentioned favorably. True, there are a few bits that are nice touches, such as the choral ending to Track 6, “Saules gaisma” (Sunlight), and the excellent guitar line to the closing track, “Miega dziesma” (Lullaby). The most pressing matter would seem to be for the group to invest in a Latvian thesaurus, or maybe read some of Latvia’s great poets for inspiration in the usage of words. Different ones. Latvian is a rich smorgasbord of literary language, but Gain Fast seems to have skipped out on the buffet and is snacking on power bars.


Tas nav uz zemes šīs

Gain Fast

Platforma Records,  2008


Track listing:


Man nevajag sirdi

Cik laimīgi esam

Par spīti cerībām un sapņiem

Šīs dienas

Saules gaisma

Ir kāds vārds


Tas nav uz zemes šīs

Miega dziesma

These sound poets push dark buttons

Sound Poetry

In 2006, five guys formed a collective “quite accidentally,” becoming The Sound Poets—or S.P.B. This accident partially stems from the fact that most of the band members took academic degrees in subjects related more to the business world than to that of the arts. Through the band’s Web site, one gains the perception that they started their “band life” based more on a crap shoot than anything else.

But factor in the various Radio SWH victories, a MTV Baltic video debut and the outright talent, one has to take this perception and disregard it. The band released its debut album, Sound Poetry, in December.

S.P.B. has enjoyed single-by-single success since 2007 (with its first single “Pearl Tears” reaching the Radio SWH Top 20 No. 1 in March) and has been readily introduced to the Latvian rock sector, by performing in both the 2007 Baltic Beach Party and the PositivusAB Festival. But even with all of this, I have to say that the band seems to have remained rather unknown. I myself only stumbled upon it when browsing the MySpace pages of local Latvian bands. To its credit, S.P.B. had something that made me want to know more.

The five members who make up S.P.B. are Jānis Aišpurs (vocals, keyboards and guitars), Ingars Viļums (bass, guitars and keyboards), Andris Buiķis (drums), Normunds Lukša (guitar) and Artūrs Eglītis (keyboards and back-up vocals). In all honesty, the music itself is good, but the unique sound of S.P.B. rests mostly on its vocals.

The album’s first track, “Ikaros,” is a nice a capella bit. It makes you hold your breath as your senses strain to catch each note of the romantically tuned intro. And then you’re pitched the line “I think it’s beautiful day to spread my wings and die.” Take it in now: This is how S.P.B. works.

The majority of the album is ethereal vocals and catchy beats mixed with lyrics that are unnaturally and shockingly dark for the bright-eyed group of guys smiling up at you from the album’s disc jacket. I still don’t know what to think, how I feel or if I should be tapping my foot to songs about self-doubt and uncertainty.

The album continues with vocal and sound plays in a track aptly named “Poet,” wherein S.P.B. tests the waters with reverb, echoes and something that feels like you’re in a tunnel. “Poet” is one of the strong points of the album, a charming song that reminds me of one of Ben Folds Five’s less annoying songs. Other than that, Sound Poetry is a slow ride. Most of the time, it is the refrains alone that save each individual track from becoming mundane.

One more song that in no way falls into that rut is track five, “Another Day.” The song, my favorite on the album, has a very involving introduction and an overall catchiness. It seems to include everything you need to “get” S.P.B.: delightfully “bipolar” vocals, variations in the themes of the song, free application of synthesizers and a good beat.

One thing S.P.B. does well is tackle sounds—all kinds of them. Many tracks sound like they might have been recorded in a cement tunnel or in a tiled bathroom. Other tracks include such additions as stomping boots, restaurant clatter and traffic on a rainy day. While listening, you at times feel as if you’re in a traveling performance and as an audience member are tasked with keeping up with the band. All of these things are little hooks that could either keep you listening “for just a few seconds more” or that could make you hit the eject button on your stereo system.

The sixth track, “Body Selling,” takes the album from slightly off-beat relationship songs to a more serious and potentially uncomfortable subject matter. What sells this track for me is the aforementioned sound of stomping boots and clapping hands, elements that lend the song something both intoxicating and eerie. I personally get antsy after this track, a point at which I feel like I’ve gotten everything I can out of the album.

Still, S.P.B. manages to putter on through to the last track, where it teeters on the fence with a mini-ballad (“Feeling Behind”) I don’t remember enough about to really comment on. S.P.B. won’t be readily liked by everyone. However, there is also no doubt that this mixture of innocent, teen movie sounds and dull razor blade lyrics will catch your attention. This may make you feel uncomfortable or disjointed, but this is what poets do best—they test the boundaries of their audiences by purposely pushing previously unpushed buttons and touching on topics that might otherwise stay uncovered.


The five-member Latvian band Sound Poets, or S.P.B., was formed in 2006. (Publicity photo)


Sound Poetry

Sound Poets

SPB Records,  2008


Track listing:

Ikaros (intro)


Pearl Tears

The Moon

Another Day

Body Selling

It Takes Me

Spinning the Sun Around Fingers

Breaking Bounds


The Doors

Feeling Behind

The Briefing serves up salad bar of jazz-funk

Funny Thoughts

Jazz is not everyone’s cup of tea. Neither is funk. I know they aren’t mine. And yet, much like the clever combination of grapefruit (hate it) and cranberry juice (not a big fan), elements that might otherwise leave a bitter taste in your mouth can be brought together to make something that, for unknown reasons, cancel each other out and just seem right.

Acid jazz/rock/pop group The Briefing certainly strays from any established line of Latvian bands in what could probably be likened to a little musical awakening. It is a one-of-a-kind ensemble that twists jazz and funk and pop and rock, grooving to a truly different beat. The vocals sound neither unschooled nor overly primped, leaving the stereotypical vibrato voices of music academy graduates in the dust to make way for aggressive and sultry sounds that speak lyrics a bit grittier than those of their Baltic colleagues. This is your official memo: If you’re in the mood for an on-the-fence kind of safe-but-different, The Briefing’s debut album Funny Thoughts is something you should look into.

Taking in the awkward lip-biting monkey scene (by California street artist Nate Van Dyke) depicted on the cover of Funny Thoughts and the lyrical content of the all-English album, I wasn’t expecting or prepared to learn the members of The Briefing met while playing in a Liepāja church band. I’m not implying they can’t be religious, just that I don’t usually associate churches with street art or monkeys. This strange, in-your-face conglomerate consists of Kristīna Dobele (vocals), Raimonds Dobelis (bass), Sandis Volkovs (drums), Andris Kauliņš (keyboards) and Uldis Melka (guitar).

The Briefing has been making musical wonders since 2002. In addition to being named by the newspaper Diena as one of Latvia’s most progressive jazz bands, The Briefing has a hefty history of playing open-air festivals and has performed throughout the Baltic states and in Poland. The band’s witty lyrics and fascinating sounds show these guys have a propensity for groove.

An outright exclamation of “This is my world!” opens the album in a straightforward, to-the-point introduction—no holding back. Right away you hear an almost complete range of Dobele’s vocals, which are immediately established as unique, capable and willing to try things others wouldn’t. “My World” has a little “acid trip circus Bjork” moment that almost makes you want to turn and run, but it slips out of the trance before things get too weird. Like I said, there are many “wrong yet right” bits to come.

Moving further through the album you get witty lyrics and interesting ideas expressed with cynical poeticism, exclaiming such things as “Oh, how I hate their lies; they are so sticky.” Other lyrics are sassy, or even create a somewhat achy feeling, like with the track “Dry Skin,” which starts out very soft before moving into twangy, dreamlike sounds.

The album is a theme park of sounds. At times I feel like I’ve stumbled onto a Japanese pop-rock band cum Mario Brothers video game set (“Hurry Up!”), while other tracks put me in a fancy dinner club filled with tuxedos and the rustle of evening gowns (“Lullaby”).

The album truly does take getting used to and after countless hours of listening to it on loop, I am bothered by a good portion of it, but there are a few tracks that are little consolation prizes for sticking with the program. My favorites include “My World,” “Totally” and “Do I Know You,” all three of which carry certain clarity with the clean mess of drum, keyboard and guitar. Everything has its place, though it may not really sound like it. Some other tracks veer a bit more toward the side of “what is this?”, like the marginally dark “Funny Thoughts (Inside My Head),” wherein the narrator entertains thoughts of killing her boyfriend and the possible repercussions. All of these creepy thoughts are set to a background of bubblegum funk and psycho whistling. Then there are the galactic, tippy-toe sounds of “My Boo” and the plea to one’s lover to rethink leaving. The album’s wind-down strikes as a bit lazy compared to the preceding tracks, but the complete change of style is a small redeeming point.

Funny Thoughts deals a lot with inner and outer human turmoil, voicing bursting opinions and ideas not often heard from Latvians. It’s a real salad bar of emotions and ideas, and though it’s a bit difficult to get into and keep up with, I am at least able to appreciate the simple fact that The Briefing is different.

Description of image

The Briefing, fronted by vocalist Kristīna Dobele, is a jazz-funk band from Liepāja, Latvia. (Publicity photo)


Funny Thoughts

The Briefing

Antena,  2008

Track listing:

My World

Do I Know You


Hurry Up!

Funny Thoughts (Inside My Head)

In the Mood of Love

In the Mood of Love (Acoustic)

Second Chance

Dry Skin

My Boo


On the Web

The Briefing

The band’s official Web site. EN