Jumprava, one of the old guard of Latvian rock music, celebrated its 20th anniversary this year with a big concert at the Dzintari Concert Hall in Jūrmala. Shortly before the concert, the band released its latest album, Inkarmo. According to the group, “inkarmo” means “the place and time we find ourselves in at this moment.” This is illustrated by the album’s cover, which features a map of the world with a small red dot to indicate Latvia.
Jumprava’s prior two releases, 1998’s Laika atšķirību romance and 2001’s Trajektorija, were among the band’s best albums. Though Jumprava’s most popular works remain old standards like “Vēlreiz” and “Ziemeļmeita,” I actually prefer their newer songs. And I think that Inkarmo continues where the band left off with Trajektorija—another very strong album of Jumprava’s blend of electronic and acoustic music with thoughtful lyrics, smoothly going from laid back and pensive songs to highly emotional and energetic songs without missing a beat.
The group’s lineup has not changed: Aigars Grāvers, Aigars Grauba, Aigars Krēsla and Ainārs Ašmanis.
The album starts out in a particularly odd way, with the low-key song “Elpas cena” (The Price of a Breath). It’s a very quiet song that sounds more like it would have fit better on one of the Rama Dance albums (Grāvers’ side project, melding Latvian and Indian music). Also interesting is that the music’s author is Krēsla, and not Grāvers as I originally thought when I listened to the song. This song’s refrain includes lines about a lonely yak in Tibet, certainly a topic rarely mentioned in popular music.
The album does have a number of mellower moments, including the songs “Man pietiek ar to” (That is Enough for Me) and the lullaby “Miega dziesma mazajai meitenei” (A Sleepy Song for a Young Girl), both composed by Krēsla. “Miega dziesma,” featuring lead vocals by Grauba, is a sweet, quiet song—uncharacteristic for Jumprava, but still effective.
But that, of course, does not mean the album is not without its up-tempo songs, such as “Laimīgs” (Happy) and “Liekos dīvains” (Seem Strange), which includes one of my favorite lines from any Jumprava song: “Ja es Tev liekos dīvains, tad kāds Tu liecies man?’ (If I seem strange to you, how do you seem to me?)
Jumprava also continues the dabbling in techno music that was started on the Trajektorija album. This is most notable in “Stacijā” (At the Station), a song about a chance encounter at a train station. Honestly, I’m not a fan of this song, though I do like the almost-techno title track, “Inkarmo.”
Production of the album is almost too perfect, and as a result it sounds too polished, almost sterile. One of the reasons Jumprava became so popular was its experimentation with non-traditional arrangements and melodies, much different than what was popular in the 1980s and 1990s.
It could be said that this album is a bit too safe. But this is a minor complaint. One of the drawbacks of music made almost entirely with synthesizers is that at times it will sound mechanical. Don’t let that frighten you, because the songwriting on Inkarmo is top-notch.
Almost all the lyrics on the album are written by outsiders. Rolands Ūdris (a.k.a. Ūdrītis), lead singer of The Hobos, wrote the words to “Inkarmo.” Also writing lyrics were Ingus Bērziņš, Viktors Duks and Aija Strazdiņa. Curiously, no lyrics were provided by frequent collaborator and poet Nataradža.
The booklet accompanying the compact disc contains all the lyrics, but very little else. The CD is presented in Digipak form (a cardboard case) as opposed to the regular plastic jewel box. To be honest, I prefer the regular CD cases, as the cardboard cases tend to get worn out after a while and cannot be replaced.
Inkarmo is a worthy addition to the Jumprava canon. In a time when many bands (Latvian and otherwise) with a strong back catalogue are content to rest on their laurels and release sub-par albums, Jumprava still is at the top of its game, challenging itself musically and pleasing old fans as well as bringing in new fans. At the close of the anniversary concert in the Dzintari hall, the band seemed taken aback by the sight of 3,000 fans, all on their feet and screaming for the group’s return to the stage. But such is the strength of Jumprava, and it shows no signs of diminishing.
Platforma Records, 2005
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