It seems Latvian popular music has been at a nadir recently. New faces have been few and far between, with the more recent work by better known names like Prāta vētra and Astro’n’out not quite exceeding expectations. Latvia, much like elsewhere, is awash with reality show singers who, after a while, begin to all sound rather depressingly similar.
However, the tide may have turned, as Tavs stāsts, the latest album by the group The Sound Poets, and their first album entirely in Latvian, is a joyous reaffirmation of the treasures that can still be found in Latvian popular music. Combining musical and lyrical talent, this album is one that we have been waiting for for a long time.
The genesis of the Sound Poets is in the group S.P.D., which formed in 2007. S.P.D.’s debut album, Sound Poetry, featuring songs entirely in English, was released at the end of 2008. Two of the members of S.P.D. then went on to form the Sound Poets in 2011, having released a few singles since then, now bring forth their full album Tavs stāsts.
Even though there was a long wait before their album was released, the Sound Poets remained firmly in the public consciousness with a number of songs that became hits during the past few years. Songs like ‘Kalniem pāri’, ‘Nāc līdzās’, and ‘Emīlija’ provided a tantalizing preview of the forthcoming album, Tavs stāsts, which was finally released in 2013, and the long wait was certainly worth it.
The Sound Poets pay particular attention to melody and arrangements, and their musical style could be compared to groups like Coldplay and Arcade Fire. The group, made up of Jānis Aišpurs (vocals and guitar), Normunds Lukša (guitar), Gints Bīmanis (bass), Undīne Baloda (cello), and Pēteris Lunde (drums), were also noticed by the biggest Latvian band, Prāta vētra, and were invited to be the opening act on their 2012 tour of Latvia. Aišpurs also provides the lyrics for all the songs.
The attention to detail and arrangements is evident in all the songs, particularly the first single off the album, ‘Emīlija’. From the tender piano motif in the beginning, to the melodic vocals, which then moves into a driving middle section, with its crashing crescendo at the climax, and then fades out with just the piano, this song takes the listener on a particularly emotional journey.
Perhaps the most beautiful song on the album is ‘Nāc līdzās’, where the author sings about leaving messages on windowpanes with his breath. Featuring an uncredited (at least in the CD booklet) appearance by the choir Kamēr… singing harmonies, ‘Nāc līdzās’, with its pleading, earnest lyric, is one of many high points of this album.
‘Kalniem pāri’ shows the band’s more up-tempo side – the thundering baseline brings a sense of dramatic urgency to this song about the trials and tribulations that occur in every relationship – how even if you make it over one mountain, there will still be more mountains to cross. This song also displays the rather remarkable vocal range of Aišpurs, who deftly moves from full voice to falsetto in a memorable vocal performance.
The title track, ‘Tavs stāsts’, is of a more philosophical nature, about how one must write their own story and how it may be praised and derided throughout time. Aišpurs’ use of falsetto here may remind the listener slightly of singers like James Blunt, with his vocal leaps and, at times, fragile voice.
The album closes with the pulsating, deliberately tempoed song ‘Augšup’, a somewhat meditative work, balanced on the bass guitar. With its repeated refrain, or perhaps mantra, ‘tas pieder mums’ (it belongs to us), it brings the album to a satisfying conclusion, as the guitar slowly fades out at the end.
The only critique I have of the album is actually of the booklet – though all the lyrics are included, they are handwritten, to simulate notes in a notebook. Though this certainly is charming, and belies the personal nature of the lyrics, the words are quite often unreadable!
Tavs stāsts is a refreshing and memorable entry in the field of Latvian popular music. With their attention to the craft of songwriting and details of melody making, Tavs stāsts breathes new life into the world of Latvian popular and rock music. Not content with simplistic, generic songs, the group manages to bring together lyrical prowess and musical skills to make for some of the best songwriting recently heard in a Latvian release. Hopefully this signals a new rebirth in Latvian music – the Sound Poets have, with one album, made their mark in a rather dramatic and memorable fashion.
The Sound Poets on draugiem.lv – http://www.draugiem.lv/thesoundpoets/
The Sound Poets website: http://www.thesoundpoets.lv/lv
The Sound Poets
I Love You Rec, 2013
1. No sevis vairs nav bail
2. Mēģini vēl
4. Nāc lidzās
7. Impērija (Anunnaki)
9. Kalniem pāri
10. Tavs stāsts
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