Unlike many pop groups, Prāta vētra goes out of its way to make each new record noticeably different than the last one. Perhaps due a desire to fully and unequivocally break with the past, on its latest album, Tur kaut kam ir jābūt, the band has gone off on a very unusual tangent, diverging completely with the styles of previous records and resulting in a rather baffling work.
Not content to simply recreate a previously used winning formula, the band likes to explore new avenues and to surprise listeners with new sounds and arrangements. Sometimes this can be a bit surprising (if not shocking) to the listener. For example, there’s the move from the light and catchy pop of 1999’s Starp divām saulēm to 2001’s synth-heavy and slightly darker Kaķēns, kurš atteicās no jūras skolas and then back to a guitar-driven sound on 2003’s Dienās, kad lidlauks pārāk tāls.
Četri krasti (2005), was one of the band’s weaker efforts. Outside of the title track and the songs “Pilots Tims” and “Kur milžu kalni liekās mazi,” there wasn’t much memorable or inspired on the record. So, with the tiniest bit of apprehension, I picked up Tur kaut kam ir jābūt.
Firstly, it is worth pointing out that the group has moved away from recording in other countries and using internationally known artists and producers. Songs on previous records had been recorded in Germany, Denmark and elsewhere with producers such as Steve Lyon. For Tur kaut kam ir jābūt, most everyone involved is Latvian. Also, this is the first album since Starp divām saulēm to be entirely in Latvian. Not a single song of the 13 tracks is in English (last I heard, the English version of the album is forthcoming and will be titled Fire Monkey). The album’s producer is Latvian hip-hop artist Gustavo (Gustavs Butelis), the album was recorded entirely in Rīga and album artwork was provided by Latvian painter Otto Zitmanis.
The core of Prāta vētra remains singer Renārs Kaupers, guitarist Jānis Jubalts, keyboardist Māris Mihelsons and drummer Kaspars Roga. Hired hand Ingars Viļums plays bass.
The choice of Gustavo as producer was certainly a fateful one, as it would appear the hip-hop artist had a significant influence on the sound of the album. Not only producing, he also provides lyrics and backing vocals on a number of songs. The drums and bass guitar are brought forward on these songs, with guitar buried further back in the mix, and the songs have a far more aggressive sound. For example, in “Ja tikai uz mani tu paskatītos” Kaupers urgently shouts the lyrics of the song, which contains some rather cringe-inducing moments such as “Mobīlais tavs, kas vienmēr ir zonā” (I will be your mobile phone, that always has reception).
That is followed up by the equally aggressive “Bronza,” which now has added distortion on Kaupērs’ vocals, also featuring backup vocals by Gustavo.
Much like on the Kaķēns record, guitarist Jubalts is rarely heard, which is unfortunate. Prāta vētra is at its best when the guitar is at the forefront. I remain convinced that the guitar-heavy Dienās kad lidlauks pārāk tāls remains the band’s best work, both musically and lyrically.
The new album’s first radio single, “Ai nu lai” (released in English as “And I Lie”), reminds me of some of the Rolling Stones’ work from the 1980s with attempts to make the music more funky (with varying results) and overly depending on backing vocals (on this song, provided by Gunārs Kalniņš and the GG choir).
One of the brighter moments on the album is the lyrically dense “Par podu.” To be honest, I am not quite sure what the song is about, but I enjoy the rambling lyrics and the simple yet captivating melody. Another enjoyable song is the title track, which has Kaupers singing a melody over sparse instrumentation and an interesting rhythm from drummer Roga, but the “rap” by Gustavo on this one detracts from the song itself.
Reflecting the eclectic nature of the songs, there is the Asian-sounding instrumental “Sīama” (featuring kanun performer Taner Sayacioglu), leading into the song “Es jau nāku,” featuring nei flute performed by Senol Filiz and guitar by Birol Yayla. Though a Latvian-Asian song could have been rather interesting to listen to, this winds up being one of the duller moments on the album.
Prāta vētra has been at its best with quirky yet catchy pop songs. Even the otherwise unremarkable Četri krasti had the poppy “Pilots Tims.” The only song on Tur kaut kam ir jābūt resembling a pop song is “Bēdz,” but even that song has some rather odd and distracting sound effects near the end.
It is commendable that the group continues to explore new avenues in its songwriting and sound and does not continue to recycle the same formula. It would certainly be dreadful to have to listen to an album made up purely of songs similar to earlier hits like “Brīvdienas nav manas laimīgās dienas” and “Spogulīts.”
Listeners well acquainted with songs like “Starp divām saulēm” and “Es gribu” may be a bit shocked by the new direction of the band. However, this latest venture of Prāta vētra’s winds up being slightly too eclectic for its own good, with uneven focus.
In the end, it is not much fun to listen to. It reminds me of efforts by other groups to prove that they are “mature” songwriters, in order to impress their critics (and, at the same time, alienating a certain section of their fanbase). Looking at some other reviews of the album, it seems that I am in the minority here, so your mileage may vary. The record certainly isn’t bad. Production and performance remain top notch, but I find this album, due to the divergent styles of the songs, difficult to listen to and missing the off-beat humor that many of the band’s earlier songs had.
The group, which remains Latvia’s most popular ensemble, has taken a big risk with this album. I am not sure it has paid off.
Tur kaut kam ir jābūt
BrainStorm Records, 2008
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