“Cool Waters” finds Belfast, Ireland’s bobsled team draws us in with a simple and strong bass line in the beginning of the song on a journey through sparkling guitar tones and unconventional counter melodies with vocals that stand out like a spirit working its way through a mist of noisy drones that somehow sit find in the mix of tonal imagery. The contrasting aesthetics remind one of a time in the mid-90s when a bunch of naff, ersatz alternative rock and tough guy aggro nü metal pushed aside more interesting sounds and tenderness and sensitivity out of mainstream music. So much was louder without saying a whole lot and the bravado then as now was insufferable. But in the underground there was indiepop of the variety that embraced strong songwriting and unconventional pop hooks as well as noise and a spirit of experimentation that operated without reference to popular trends: Felt Pilotes, Apples in Stereo, Neutral Milk Hotel, Oliva Tremor Control—the whole Elephant 6 thing and its cousin scenes. There was also dream like noise and art rock like Unwound, Versus and Helium that resonated with the ways Sonic Youth took the avant-garde and made it accessible. The fusion of those lineages you can hear in the music of bobsled team and “Cool Water,” from the group’s fantastic full length The Colours Blur, is a fine example of those impulses and influences manifested in a new expression of a similar creative spirit. Listen to “Cool Water” on Bandcamp and connect with bobsled team at the links provided. Score a very limited edition vinyl version of the record on Bandcamp as well.
The title track to Stūrī Zēvele’s new album Labvakar (“Good Evening” in Latvian) sounds like something written by friends who are getting together in their personal retreat free to enjoy each other’s company while indulging the time to let their creativity flow where it will, trusting in their personal chemistry to refine their songwriting on the fly. The music video for the song displays the band in a home lit by candlelight while they bring out instruments and try out ideas but not like it’s a job. Like it’s something fun that they do that sometimes results in a song they can share with other people and often enough it’s something that was just fun on its own that may inspire ideas to explore further. That spirit infuses the easy and affectionately introspective tone of the song. Like it’s written from the perspective of a band taking stock of where they’ve been and appreciating the process that has kept their band around for fourteen years. The group, originally from the small town of Kuldiga, Latvia, is now based out of the capital city Riga, is perhaps hinting at its origins of small town life where they learned not to put too much pressure on their art and to keep it something they love doing together. Musically the song, and the rest of the record for that matter, has much in common with American indie pop from the 90s in that its sophistication of composition and creativity in the use of unconventional instruments as well as synths/keyboards and standard rock instruments creates a world of sound and storytelling that is easy to get lost in even if, like this author, you do not speak Latvian. It would be facile to compare the group to a famous alternative rock band like Mumiy Troll, post-punks Kino, psychedelic folk legends Akvarium, progressive synth pop group Zodiak but to American ears there will be some sonic kindship there. Comparisons aside, fans of Elephant 6 artists will appreciate what Stūrī Zēvele has to offer. Listen to “Labvakar” on Soundcloud, watch the video on Vimeo and connect with the group on Bandcamp where you can order a limited edition vinyl of the record.