A compact disc cover with four gun-toting Latvians, a shot-up beer can and an album title that has nothing to do with the anything pictured introduces us to a seemingly new R.A.P. The band has its new album Maize, new manager Aivis Brūders, and a new image that has rather (drastically) changed from that of 2003. The nice guys have turned into bandits. It all looks so rugged, so different, so promising. Unfortunately, it’s same-old-same-old on this frontier.
R.A.P. is a four-member band from Kuldīga. They are singer Artis Dvarionas, bassist Māsters (Artis Rozītis), guitarist Štro (Aleksandrs Stro) and drummer Gatis L. (Gatis Lagzdenieks). Maize, released in October, is the group’s third album as R.A.P., but it’s the fourth album overall.
Because the album is not the group’s first, my expectations were high. However, the beginning of the album is weak, which is ironic considering the title of the first track—“Spēka būs gana” (Strength Enough).
It wasn‘t until the fourth track, “Viss jau saplānots” (Everything is Planned), that I could say I was really drawn into the album. First of all, the opening of the song doesn’t feature the almost monotonous, twangy, lead guitar bits characteristic of the first three tracks. Second, the vocals are balanced well with the easygoing nature of the melody and the simple niceness of the bass. This track is worthy of being held way above the “background music” category. It is also no surprise that “Viss jau saplānots” was one of the singles featured on the radio.
The next two tracks of the album aren’t particularly noteworthy, but the melodies are good (drum effects, circus-like tunes, short acoustic guitar solos), and in a hard rock style like it should be. Then, after Track Six, the easy times are over.
It should be pointed out that the album is set up in an interesting way. The songs in Latvian have been placed in the first part of the album, and the songs in English make up the rest of it. For me, the arrangement works out, because I know when to stop the CD.
The seventh track, “Never Felt that Before,” has the basics, but the English is still questionable. spent most of the second part of the disc trying to decipher the lyrics, and the effects of the music was almost missed. Incomplete thoughts coupled with shoddy spelling in the printed lyrics of the disc jacket made me really doubt the quality of what I was listening to. “Plain” instead of “plane,” “circulationing” instead of “circulating” (kudos to Dvarionas, though, who at least sang the right word)… I hate to say it, but I can’t listen to the English lyrics on the album without grinding my teeth, and the typos in the booklet are unprofessional.
Track Nine, “A Day Before Nothing” (also one of the radio singles) sets itself slightly apart from the other seven tracks sung in English. It sounds almost like a hyper version of something from The Doors. It may have to do with the combination of good music, balanced vocals, and cryptic lyrics:
The fire is on and the neighbours are sleeping
the heaven fell down when I saw a baby weepin‘
In the white snow – hot human show
No need to return from where you go…
Track 10 offers a contrast between the main melody and refrain that reminds me of what bands like 311 have done—a kind of island pop and alternative rock sound. The rest of the album is musically entertaining, but the faltering English lyrics ruin the moment.
As with R.A.P.‘s previous album, 2, I got used to Maize after listening to it several times, though it quickly became an album that worked well just as background noise. The music is, as if I can’t repeat it enough times, stellar, but there’s still something missing. In an October interview in the newspaper Kurzemnieks, members of the band explained their music-making process, and a little light was shed. The group begins by creating the music and the melodies. They have jam sessions and work through what they like and don’t like. Only afterwards do they “look for a text.”
I may have read the interview wrong or the band members might not have had a lot of time to answer the questions, but what I understand from what was said is that R.A.P. puts most of the effort into the musical aspect of their albums, treating lyrics as more of a sidedish. And it shows, it really does.
I can’t say I don’t like Maize. There are no problems with R.A.P’s music (it hasn’t really changed in three years, but then again, it wasn’t bad to begin with, so I’m not complaining), but the lyrics are either confusing, pointless, or, in some cases, completely lost under the music. Almost every single track lacks balance between vocals and melody. The lyrics could be replaced with “la la la” and the songs would sound just as good. Not only do I stand by my opinion of three years ago that the best of R.A.P. lies within the Latvian tracks, but the band’s efforts should concentrate a bit more on the content of the lyrics. There is space for improvement, and I look forward to the next album in the event it has been filled.
Platforma Records, 2005
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