Trad.Attack! Kullakarva - Shimmer Gold
artist release (www.tradattack.ee)
Review by Lee Blackstone
Album number two from this excellent Estonian trio finds Trad.Attack! in fine form; confident, assured, and playing to their gift for performing great tunes. As before, Estonian bagpiper Sandra Vabarna blows up a storm (she has been playing the Estonian bagpipe since age thirteen, but she is also featured on whistles, Jew's harp, and vocals); Jalmar Vabarna (12-string guitar, vocals) provides driving rhythms and sensitive accompaniment; and Tõnu Tubli (drums, vocals, glockenspiel, and zither) is loose and funky.
The band's formula seems established: the group roots out traditional tunes, and many of the tracks -- as on their debut Ah! -- incorporate an original field recording. I enjoy this approach; many 'revival' bands obviously draw on older source materials, but literally embedding the singing of an elder folksinger into one's music provides an interesting connection to the past. Trad.Attack! are clearly in thrall to Estonia's folk music. Songs are based on folk melodies; the melodic line is lifted, or otherwise reconstructed and fleshed out to meet the band's aesthetic. Only two tracks on Kullakarva -Shimmer Gold ('Mõmm,' and 'Säde') appear to be wholly composed by the band.
The first half of Shimmer Gold is a non-stop party, which brings to mind Trad.Attack!'s love for disco ball imagery. 'Talgo' ('Working Bee') is a song meant to accompany communal work, and it is carried out at a breathless pace. After the refrain, the tune turns positively giddy with the introduction of Sandra Vabarna's Jew's harp playing, and the bouncing rhythms from Jalmar Varana and Tõnu Tubli. As with many of the songs on the album, the lyrics sound incantatory; in this sense, Trad.Attack! might remind northern music fans of the spell-chanting found in Hedningarna's work.
"Soit / Ride"
'Soit' ('Ride') begins with a sampled, stuttering vocalization, paired with a chopping chord structure that makes the tune sound – for a moment -- like the Estonian equivalent of The Cars' 'Just What I Needed.' The song itself is derived from a children's game, but the low male chanting of the lyrics makes the tune sound menacing. More menace rears its head on 'Metsa Kuldsed Kuningad' ('Golden Kings Of The Woods'), based on intense chants designed to keep the wolf away. Sandra Varana's bagpipe playing even evokes the warning sound of a siren. The instrumental 'Nüüdispolka' ('Polka Now') lets the Estonian bagpipe rip; the band fiercely rides along a sped-up riff that could be a '60s garage band kicking out the jams, and we are also treated to an insane breakdown on the drums from Tubli. The band's treatment of 'Kabala,' about male-female relationships, is given a whirling, stomping beat courtesy of the Jew's harp, solid drumming, handclaps, and ear-worm worthy chorus; here, Trad.Attack! remind me of an acoustic version of Estonia's mighty folk-metal band, Metsatöll.
Trad.Attack! bring such youthful and joyous energy to their music that Shimmer Gold is filled with sun. Songs such as 'Kallimale' ('To My Dearest'), 'Päevake' ('Sun'), Sade ('Spark'), and 'Kullakarva' ('Shimmer Gold') are filled with catchy hooks and musicianship that emphasizes the 'golden light' metaphor permeating the album. There is irreverence, too: the herdsmen's chant on 'Päevake' begins, “Sun come out, Give me a meatloaf!,” and even cannabis is mentioned…all of which makes you wonder what the life of an Estonian herdsman is like.
The title track is the longest on the CD: at over ten minutes, 'Kullakarva' ('Shimmer Gold') begins as an ambient piece, wending its way into a downtempo workout over which 'snakewords' are chanted. The track is Trad. Attack's Pink Floyd (or, perhaps, The Orb) moment: the great chillout after the all-night rave in the forest. Shimmer Gold is a marvelous album, and one that catapults Trad.Attack! to the front of the current folk-rock pack, mirrorballs and all. – Lee Blackstone
Here's a taste of the band playing live and acoustic in Ukraine, 2015