It is once again time to get some new blood, some new ideas into Latvian popular music. It is no coincidence that most of the reviews that I write are about Latvian groups that have been around for decades (such as Līvi or Jumprava), or about new groups made up of musicians who have been around a long time (such as Fomins & Kleins). Even groups that are considered “younger” aren’t necessarily “young” any more. Prāta Vētra has been playing for more than a decade now, and Tumsa already has five albums under its belt, so it can’t be considered the “new guard” either.
Of course, there are plenty of new groups, but many of them aren’t offering any new takes on any styles, as they are often very derivative (this would apply to many of the hard rock and heavy metal bands today) or simply recycling or copying what has been done before (this applying to many of the schlager bands and pop stars, something that could be said about this type of music anywhere in the world).
But all is not lost. Far from it. Last year in fact had two very significant debut albums: Strēlniece (The Archer) by the group re:public, featuring the mega-hit title track, and Pilnmēness (Full Moon) by Hospitāļu iela, featuring hits “Par pogu” (About a Button) and “Sinepes (par Raimi)” (Mustard (About Raimis)). Re:public would fall into the straight-ahead rock category, but Hospitāļu iela has a rather distinct style that is hard to describe, containing elements of pop, rock and reggae, with a violin thrown in for good measure, not to mention creative lyrics that exhibit an at times dry sense of humor. Pilnmēness was also presented with the “Pop Album of the Year” and “Best Debut” award at the 2005 Latvian Music Awards. Pilnmēness is also notable as one of the producers of the album was one of the pioneers of Latvian electronic music, Ingus Baušķenieks.
I thought Pilnmēness was a good album, featuring the above-mentioned tracks, as well as songs like “Par kiosku” (About a Kiosk) and “Putni prom” (Birds Away), so when the group’s latest album, Nav centrs (Not the Center) came out earlier this year, I picked it up.
Taking its name from a poem by Klāvs Elsbergs, Hospitāļu iela was founded in 1997 by leader, singer, guitarist and principal songwriter Edgars Šubrovskis, according to the MICREC recording house. However, at that time nothing got off the ground and the group went through many changes in its lineup. An album, Ir maiga nakts (It is a Gentle Night) was released independently in 1999. The group finally settled down and began work on is first proper major label release in 2001, which was finished in 2003 and released in 2004 on the MICREC label Raibā taureņa ieraksti.
The group now is made up of Šubrovskis, Dina Skreitule (violin), Maija Ušča (bass guitar), Toms Circenis (drums), Laima Ivule (vocals, keyboards), Jēkabs Kacens (djembo), Biāna Pette (accordion) and Reinis Ozoliņš (contrabass). With a lineup like that, once can certainly expect an eclectic mix of music styles and sounds, particularly the reggae plus violin sound, as well as the dynamic between the vocals of Šubrovskis and Ivule, which gives Hospitāļu iela a distinct sound.
Nav centrs sees the group continuing down its own experimental path, and has some songs that will help cement the group’s reputation as not just a creative, unique force in Latvian music, but as strong songwriters as well.
I like the Hospitāļu iela songs that are more up-tempo, so one of my favorites on the album is “Par dimantiem” (About Diamonds). Following after a number of slower songs, the song sees the group performing with a nervous energy. Also I liked “Paspēlēties” (Playing), which is more of a duet between Ivule and Šubrovskis, not to mention being one of the group’s “cheerful” songs.
To be honest, I’ve never been a big fan of reggae. Not that I think it is bad, it just has never captivated me as it seems to captivate others. I will never deny the talent of someone like Bob Marley, but I guess I never “got” it. However, from time to time I do enjoy a song in that style, for example the very reggae “Nesaki nevienam” (Don’t Tell Anyone).
At 60 minutes and 17 songs (well, more like 16, as one track, “Izejam ārā” (Let’s Go Outside), is only 19 seconds), the record does seem a bit over-long. It begins and ends strongly, but the middle remains a bit foggy to me.
Nav centrs is overall an enjoyable record, certainly something fresh and unique, and it certainly is encouraging that interesting things are happening in Latvian popular music. Both Pilnmēness and Nav centrs have some great songs on them, so both records are recommended to those who are looking for something a bit different.
Raibā taureņa ieraksti, 2005
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