Jazz is not everyone’s cup of tea. Neither is funk. I know they aren’t mine. And yet, much like the clever combination of grapefruit (hate it) and cranberry juice (not a big fan), elements that might otherwise leave a bitter taste in your mouth can be brought together to make something that, for unknown reasons, cancel each other out and just seem right.
Acid jazz/rock/pop group The Briefing certainly strays from any established line of Latvian bands in what could probably be likened to a little musical awakening. It is a one-of-a-kind ensemble that twists jazz and funk and pop and rock, grooving to a truly different beat. The vocals sound neither unschooled nor overly primped, leaving the stereotypical vibrato voices of music academy graduates in the dust to make way for aggressive and sultry sounds that speak lyrics a bit grittier than those of their Baltic colleagues. This is your official memo: If you’re in the mood for an on-the-fence kind of safe-but-different, The Briefing’s debut album Funny Thoughts is something you should look into.
Taking in the awkward lip-biting monkey scene (by California street artist Nate Van Dyke) depicted on the cover of Funny Thoughts and the lyrical content of the all-English album, I wasn’t expecting or prepared to learn the members of The Briefing met while playing in a Liepāja church band. I’m not implying they can’t be religious, just that I don’t usually associate churches with street art or monkeys. This strange, in-your-face conglomerate consists of Kristīna Dobele (vocals), Raimonds Dobelis (bass), Sandis Volkovs (drums), Andris Kauliņš (keyboards) and Uldis Melka (guitar).
The Briefing has been making musical wonders since 2002. In addition to being named by the newspaper Diena as one of Latvia’s most progressive jazz bands, The Briefing has a hefty history of playing open-air festivals and has performed throughout the Baltic states and in Poland. The band’s witty lyrics and fascinating sounds show these guys have a propensity for groove.
An outright exclamation of “This is my world!” opens the album in a straightforward, to-the-point introduction—no holding back. Right away you hear an almost complete range of Dobele’s vocals, which are immediately established as unique, capable and willing to try things others wouldn’t. “My World” has a little “acid trip circus Bjork” moment that almost makes you want to turn and run, but it slips out of the trance before things get too weird. Like I said, there are many “wrong yet right” bits to come.
Moving further through the album you get witty lyrics and interesting ideas expressed with cynical poeticism, exclaiming such things as “Oh, how I hate their lies; they are so sticky.” Other lyrics are sassy, or even create a somewhat achy feeling, like with the track “Dry Skin,” which starts out very soft before moving into twangy, dreamlike sounds.
The album is a theme park of sounds. At times I feel like I’ve stumbled onto a Japanese pop-rock band cum Mario Brothers video game set (“Hurry Up!”), while other tracks put me in a fancy dinner club filled with tuxedos and the rustle of evening gowns (“Lullaby”).
The album truly does take getting used to and after countless hours of listening to it on loop, I am bothered by a good portion of it, but there are a few tracks that are little consolation prizes for sticking with the program. My favorites include “My World,” “Totally” and “Do I Know You,” all three of which carry certain clarity with the clean mess of drum, keyboard and guitar. Everything has its place, though it may not really sound like it. Some other tracks veer a bit more toward the side of “what is this?”, like the marginally dark “Funny Thoughts (Inside My Head),” wherein the narrator entertains thoughts of killing her boyfriend and the possible repercussions. All of these creepy thoughts are set to a background of bubblegum funk and psycho whistling. Then there are the galactic, tippy-toe sounds of “My Boo” and the plea to one’s lover to rethink leaving. The album’s wind-down strikes as a bit lazy compared to the preceding tracks, but the complete change of style is a small redeeming point.
Funny Thoughts deals a lot with inner and outer human turmoil, voicing bursting opinions and ideas not often heard from Latvians. It’s a real salad bar of emotions and ideas, and though it’s a bit difficult to get into and keep up with, I am at least able to appreciate the simple fact that The Briefing is different.
The Briefing, fronted by vocalist Kristīna Dobele, is a jazz-funk band from Liepāja, Latvia. (Publicity photo)
Do I Know You
Funny Thoughts (Inside My Head)
In the Mood of Love
In the Mood of Love (Acoustic)
On the Web
The band’s official Web site. EN
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