Už Jsme Doma: Cod Liver Oil

Už Jsme Doma
Cod Liver Oil

“[I]deas of home and house prove to be a part of our game, our design, and even our philosophy,” said Miroslav Wanek in an interview with Matte Magazine. He went on to add, “A house is a good symbol, because it’s built. That’s an important detail about a home.” When the presskit told me that the name of the band means, “We’re home now”, or, in slang, “Now I get it”, I realised that ‘doma’ possibly means ‘house’, a domestic place, a domesticity. There are drawings of houses on the band’s website. Here and in other interviews Wanek talks about things that are constructed and solid. The band’s music might be crashy, but, he says, it is not improvised. It is composed. They know where each note needs to go. This is important. It is carefully planned. It can be reproduced. It has a structure. It is as well-built as a house.

This structure is difficult to hear at first, because the music on Cod Liver Oil has been designed to destabilise you. If these songs are houses, then the houses are challenging places to live. The stairs flatten out as you step on them and the ceilings zoom down into the corners. Už Jsme Doma likes abrupt transitions, the loud-to-soft trick, purr leaping up into thrash. “Řeč” tacks without warning from a roaring opening into a run of isolated electric guitar notes that sound almost medieval, as if the guitarists are thinking of becoming minstrels, plucking lutes. In “Mlha”, a solo piano swaps back and forth with a snarl of heavy metal. Wanek has cited Uriah Heep as an influence, and you can hear it in the band’s growling drums, in “Chvíle”, for example, as a barrage of rat-a-tat percussion descends firmly from a stormcloud and tries to pummel you into the mud. The musicians vary this trick so that it doesn’t go stale. They have a feeling for drama. Into some of the songs they introduce choral singing heavy enough to suggest the Red Army Choir, that deep-bellied masculine da-da-da.

Už Jsme Doma has been running for a little more than twenty years. It held its first live show in 1985 while the Soviets were still in control of what was then Czechoslovakia. The show was an underground event. Officially, the band was illegal. It didn’t become a commercial proposition until after the Velvet Revolution had ousted the Communist government at the end of 1989. Since then it has released a number of albums in Europe and had some success in North America. BMG picked them up for one album (Hollywood) and then dropped them. Rybí Tuk, repackaged as Cod Liver Oil, is being released four years after the Czech version came out in 2003.

The lineup has changed several times during the group’s history. The saxophonist and co-songwriter Jindra Dolansky, who had been with the band since 1986, left before Cod Liver Oil was recorded. People who had been following Už Jsme Doma for a while worried that this change might ruin the band. Then the album came out and they were relieved. Our fears were unfounded, they said. The band is different, more arty, but still good.

Wanek wrote the lyrics, as he has always done. It’s interesting, looking at his insistence on solidarity, to notice that these lyrics are often about things that disintegrate or have indeterminate shapes: dust, fog, water, snow, chalk. The booklet that comes with Cod Liver Oil has line-by-line translations of the songs. You can see for yourself the problems of translation, noticing that the alliterative bounce of:

Pocity plotu plot plotu pletou

Ploty po plotu cit pletou

emerges in English as the more jagged sound of:

France by fence their tangled plots

The lot of lots of unfenced lots

“I believe,” said Wanek, interviewed, “that for most people the important point about Už Jsme Doma lies … in the strangeness of the music, in good and powerful energy, in beautiful melodies combined with freaky tempos, nervous guitars, and restless drums.” The simplest way to sum up this album would be to call it art metal, and if you wanted to hunt down a specific style for the artiness to follow then you might conclude that it was a Cubist construction, apparently chaotic at first with its push-and-pull of competing loud-soft angles, then becoming clearer as you look at it. Wanek’s defence of structure starts to make sense. It is structured. But like Rl’yeh.

RATING 7 / 10
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