Sniedze Prauliņa’s debut album a dreamy space rock opus

Perhaps one of the most unusual, if not downright strange, albums recently released in Latvia is singer/songwriter Sniedze Prauliņa’s debut record Inkrustācija, released in 2017. Inkrustācija, an expansive space rock opus, features Prauliņa on vocals, flute, and synthesizers, among other instruments and effects. According to an interview with Prauliņa, the term ‘inkrustācija’ (or incrustation) is used to describe a decorative technique, where one material is infused with other materials.

As an introduction to this work, the first track is ‘Orbitālā prelūdija’, which features a heavenly vocalize from the choir Mūza, conducted by Guntis Cimiņš. This sets the stage for the journey to come, and gives a glimpse of the many talents and creative vision of Prauliņa.

On an album of strange songs, one of the more odd ones is the fuzzy sounding ‘Melncilts’, a lengthy duet between disembodied voices. As the lyrics are not included with the album, this song requires the listener to use a bit of imagination to understand the words, which is perhaps the artist’s intention, as these songs require the listener’s full attention to appreciate the nuances and subtleties in the music.

Edgars Šubrovskis, of the ensembles Manta and Hospitāļu iela, provides bass guitar on the track ‘If You’, a sparse and dreamy song that also features Prauliņa’s overlaid harmony vocals. To make the link to Manta even clearer, the album also has her version of the group’s song ‘Nāve jūras malā’, with just vocals and effects. Though the song offers a showcase for Prauliņa’s lovely vocals (which, at times, are less clear on the album’s other tracks), the song is a bit incongruous with the rest of the album’s cosmic songs.

The album has quite a few beautiful moments, particularly the song ‘Izoletta’ (with lyrics by Šubrovskis). Beginning with a gentle introduction, with the synthesizer sounding like small bells, as if in a lullaby, the song then develops into an undulating and hypnotic melody, which is balanced with Prauliņa’s breathy vocals.

Though much of the album is dreamy and in a slower tempo, there are a few more active works, such as the pulsating ‘Landing’ and the energetic album closer ‘All the Stars’, which also features Prauliņa’s flute.

In keeping with the science fiction theme, the CD booklet includes a short story by Prauliņa about a journey through space. One might still have appreciated the lyrics beings included, since often with the employed vocal effects, the texts are often difficult to understand, if not impenetrable.

Sniedze Prauliņa’s Inkrustācija, is a dreamy and sweeping album, and certainly does take the listener to distant and dark galaxies. Still, the album’s very leisurely and, occasionally, lonely atmosphere may make it a challenging listen for some, while others may find that perhaps there is an overreliance on effects and atmospheric sounds. Now that Prauliņa has explored the deep reaches of space, one is interested to also hear what her view of life on Earth might be, should she turn her attention away from the heavens. The album, at times relaxing, at times mysterious and distant, makes for an engaging outer space journey.

For further information, please visit Sniedze Prauliņa’s website.

Inkrustācja

Sniedze Prauliņa

Biedrība HI, HI14, 2017

Track listing:

    1. Orbitālā prelūdija
    2. Saturna josta
    3. Melncilts
    4. Izoletta
    5. W.B.
    6. Nemēģini
    7. If You
    8. If You coda
    9. Nāve jūras malā
    10. M.L.B.
    11. Landing
    12. All the Stars

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.

Heavy rock interpretations of ancient folksongs on album by Symbolic

Latvian heavy folk ensemble Symbolic, though playing and performing for more than a decade, only released their first album Mūžam saule debesīs at the end of 2017. The band is made up of guitarists Jānis Rage-Raģis and Lauris Aišpurs, vocalist Uldis Kākulis, bassist Ģirts Blūms, and drummer Ēriks Lizbovskis. Symbolic’s brand of heavy rock might remind listeners more of 1970s era hard rock bands, with perhaps some influence from bands like Black Sabbath and Deep Purple.

Folklorist Dina Liepa supplements the group’s sound with traditional instruments, such as the kokle in the introduction to the song ‘Pērkons, saule’, which also serves to establish the powerful vocals of Kākulis. The traditional instruments add an additional layer to the heavy guitars, making for an intriguing blend of traditional and modern sounds and performances.

As befits the music style, many of the songs have themes of war and battle. The song ‘Mēnestiņš, karavīris’ compares the moon to a soldier who is always moving, while the mournful ‘Es, karā aiziedams’ is about a young man preparing to leave for war. The rousing ‘Jodam galvu’ is about creating a sword made of sparks to cut off a devil’s head so that the goddess Laima can freely enter a home, with a climactic squealing guitar and vocal interplay providing the imagery of the battle with the devil.

Liepa’s deft kokle playing, meant to give the appearance of a glittering sun, provides the introduction for the anthemic ode to the sun, ‘Spīguļo saulīte’. The song is full of evocative imagery and colors, such as the sun throwing the black into the sea and keeping the white for herself, as well as the daughters of the sea beating the wash with silver bats, and is given a thundering foundation by drummer Lizbovskis.

The expansive ‘Māsiņa’, a song of engagement and wedding, presents in musical form a pre-wedding ritual, where brothers must saddle their horses and chase after their sister who has gone to be married. The song builds to a galloping crescendo, then concludes on a softer, more melodic note as the ritual dance begins.

Though most of the songs are energetic and active, there are still some mellower moments to balance out the record. The winter solstice song ‘Ziemassvētku dziesma’, featuring vocals by the late Niks Matvejevs, is one of the group’s earliest songs (recorded in the early 2000s), and it brings the album to a somber close. However, the full-throated vocals seem a bit much for this calmer song, as they do not quite match the tone of the lyrics and music.

Of course, the comparisons with perhaps the best know Latvian folk metal ensemble – Skyforger – are inevitable. However, Symbolic do distinguish themselves, as they are perhaps not as aggressive as Skyforger, and Uldis Kākulis’ deep, occasionally even bellowing, vocals allow for a bit more melodic interpretation and flexibility than Skyforger’s slightly harsher vocal stylings. Still, Skyforger fans should still find much to enjoy on Mūžam saule debesīs.

As the band say on their website, “Symbolic wants to reach people who feel that their roots, their land and ancestors and history is really important and all others who are interested in Latvian culture and tradition.” Via their heavy guitars and energetic performances, Mūžam saule debesīs reveals new interpretations of ancient Latvian texts and folklore. Though one might not think that ancient folk songs would work with distorted, heavy guitars and driving drums, Symbolic’s songs show that these elements fit together quite naturally, as well as how the ancient can still be quite modern.

For further information, please visit the Symbolic website.

Mūžam saule debesīs

Symbolic

Lauska CD074, 2017

Track listing:

    1. Kuries, mana uguntiņa
    2. Pērkons, saule
    3. Mēnestiņis, karavīris
    4. Jodam galvu
    5. Es, karā aiziedams
    6. Spīguļo, saulīte
    7. Mūžam saule
    8. Māsiņa
    9. Karavīra dvēselīte
    10. Daugaviņa
    11. Mēnestiņis, karavīris (acoustic)
    12. Ziemassvētku dziesma

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.

Art-i-Shock trio debut with collection of contemporary chamber music

The Latvian chamber music trio Art-i-Shock has now been performing for seven years, and with their somewhat uncommon lineup (piano, cello, and percussion), not to mention eagerness to perform new and experimental works, have inspired many Latvian composers to compose especially for them. The trio gathered together and recorded some of their favorite compositions and, in 2017, released their debut album, simply entitled Contemporary Chamber Music from Latvia, which was released by the Latvian national record label Skani.

Art-i-Shock, made up of cellist Guna Šnē, Elīna Endzele on percussion and pianist Agnese Egliņa, formed in 2011, and have since become one of the premiere performers and interpreters of not just modern music, but they also arrange music from throughout history.

The album, a collection of seven chamber music works of a wide variety and styles, reveals the many facets and diversity of modern Latvian academic music, from melodic works to radical experimentations. The composers represented are of varied generations and in varied styles, and all the works are adeptly and expertly performed by the trio.

It is immediately clear from the first few seconds of the album that this will not be an ordinary album of music. Endzele’s drums introduce the first composition, ‘Voltāža’ (Voltage) by Platons Buravickis, which are then joined by harsh cello sounds and bursts of piano. As per the composer the work is ‘a message about the pressure that acts upon a person’. Indeed, the work is full of tension, and the ensemble maintains this energy throughout the work, particularly in Egliņa’s tumbling piano phrases.

After that anxious beginning, there is a small respite in composer Georgs Pelēcis’ ‘Pieneņu lauks’ (Field of Dandelions), a more melodic work where Šnē’s cello and Endzele’s vibraphone, and, later in the work, Egliņa’s piano, take turns in the forefront to provide a musical flowery landscape.

Crashes and sudden bursts of sound are an integral part of composer Linda Leimane’s ‘Silhouettes. Behaviors’, a particularly challenging work for both the performers and listeners. As per the composer, the goal was to create ‘something alive, organic and plastic’, and with these various sounds the Trio creates an engrossing sonic journey.

Perhaps the most ambitious work on the record is composer Kristaps Pētersons’ ‘Z.I.E.M.A.’ (or – Zigzagging Images and the Elements of the Melancholic Actuality), where the trio are joined by DJ Monsta on scratch and the composer himself on double bass. This is a particularly dense and complex work, with many sound effects and musical themes, and it is most helpful that the CD booklet includes a minute by minute breakdown of the compositions, with sections like ‘Leaving Gas Station Scene. Night’ and ‘Killing Scene. Late Morning’. As this is more of a theatrical work, Art-i-Shock set the stage with their evocative performances, while ghostly voices quote Emily Brontë, Shakespeare, and Wilhelm Müller.

The CD also contains performances of compositions by Andris Vecumnieks, Rihards Dubra, and Zigmārs Liepiņš.

Their work has not gone unnoticed; it is not particularly surprising that this CD was awarded the Zelta mikrofons award for best classical music album in 2017. The trio continues to work with many Latvian composers and premiere new works.

The CD booklet is full of extensive notes on the group and the compositions in both Latvian and English. These notes are particularly helpful with understanding the compositions and their meanings, and one gets a sense that the composers find it both an honor and a challenge to compose for Art-i-Shock.

Contemporary Chamber Music from Latvia provides for conclusive documentation of the talents and abilities of the trio Art-i-Shock. Certainly, many of the works on the record are very modern and make for challenging listening, as they are often discordant and non-melodic, but still serve to create intricate musical paintings. The releases by the Skani label continues to reveal the many varied aspects of modern Latvian academic music, and Art-i-Shock are one of the most exemplary and innovative Latvian chamber music ensembles.

For further information, please visit the Art-i-Shock website and the Skani music label website.

 

Contemporary Chamber Music from Latvia

Art-i-Shock

Skani, SKANI057, 2017

Track listing:

    1. Platons Buravickis • Voltāža
    2. Georgs Pelēcis • Pieneņu lauks
    3. Andris Vecumnieks • Valse Art-i-Shock
    4. Linda Leimane • Silhouettes. Behaviours
    5. Rihards Dubra • Rudens kaislības
    6. Kristaps Pētersons • Z.I.E.M.A. – Zigzagging Images and the Elements of the Melancholic Actuality
    7. Zigmars Liepiņš • Ķiršu lietus

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.