One of the most remarkable comebacks in Latvian popular music was the return of Otra puse. Having stayed relatively quiet during the end of the 90s and most of the first decade of the 21st century, the group released the album Nakts vai rīts in 2009, which was a major success and signalled the return of the group to the forefront of Latvian popular music, from where they had long been gone. Nakts vai rīts went on to win best pop album of 2009 and the song ‘Nakts vai rīts’ also won the “Radio Hit” award the same year at the Latvian Great Music Awards.
Of course, following up on a hit record is no easy matter, and Otra puse took their time crafting the follow-up (though there was a Christmas-themed album – Piparkūku sirsniņa – also in 2009), and in 2013 released Uzzīmē mani.
Though in the early 1990s Otra puse began as a project of Aigars Grāvers, of the band Jumprava, as the years went by the core of Otra puse became vocalist Normunds Pauniņš and keyboardist Ivars Makstnieks. As the group is an off-shoot of Jumprava, a band known for their use of synthesizers, Otra puse’s music is also synthesizer-based.
Otra puse’s songs are often about relationships, and their lyrics (many of which are written by long-time lyrical collaborator Ivars Kurpnieks), which are often in a direct, heart on one’s sleeve manner, have kept their songs on a very personal level, resonating with many listeners. The first song on the album, ‘Uzzīmē mani’, lyrics by veteran Latvian DJ Roberts Gobziņš, contains all of the trademark Otra puse elements – catchy, synthesizer-based introduction, Pauninš’s deep baritone, and personal lyrics. Pauninš sings “Esmu tā, kā tu mani uzzīmē” (I am how you draw me), while Makstnieks’ keyboards provide the solid foundation to one of the best songs on the album. The song also features co-lead vocalist Antra Stafecka, of the “Okartes skatuve” talent show, and her voice provides a distinctive contrast to Pauniņš’ vocals.
One of the major occurrences in springtime Latvia is the breaking of the ice in rivers, called “pali”, and lyricist Kurpnieks has used this imagery as a metaphor for a relationship in the song “Ave Pali”. “Saplaisās ledus, pāri upei tā nebūs, kas tad nokļūs pie tevis” (The ice breaks, there will be no path over the river, who will be able to reach you) describing with an aching sincerity the loneliness of two people who are unable to reach each other, in what is yet another standout track on the album. The song also features co-lead vocals by Aija Andrejeva (formerly known as Aiša).
Though the core of the group remains Pauniņš and Makstnieks, they are backed up by varied musicians, such as guitarists Arnolds Kārklis, Jānis Čubars, and Egons Kronbergs, bassist Jānis Olkešs, and drummer Mārtiņš Miļevskis, among others. Due to the album having taken four years to record, musicians came and went, and, perhaps because of that, Uzzīmē mani is slightly more uneven than Nakts vai rīts, and more of the songs have a ‘techno’ feel to them (since not many of the songs have an actual drummer, but have programmed drums), which at times gives the songs an overly ‘slick’ feeling to them. Songs like ‘Balss’ and ‘Kā nav tā nav’ would have worked better with a more organic feel with actual rather than programmed instruments.
Uzzīmē mani is a worthy follow-up to Nakts vai rīts, with a number of very strong songs and memorable melodies. Otra puse, who celebrated their 20th anniversary in 2013, are still going strong after their comeback, recording songs that still affect listeners with their personal lyrics and catchy hooks. The tandem of Pauniņš and Makstnieks are still a formidable combination, and Uzzīmē mani shows them at the top of their game.
Otra puse website: http://www.otrapuse.net
Otra puse, 2013
1. Uzzīmē mani
4. Mana pilsēta
5. Ave Pali
6. Uguns ledus
7. Dejo ar lietu
8. Kā nav tā nav
9. Asaras par dimantiem
10. Bez tevis
11. Paldies Tev
12. Kā nav tā nav (remixed by Ivars Tiliks)
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