Alina Orlova - Laukinis Suo Dingo Album Review
While the genre of Lithuanian sung poetry may not be one you would commonly come across within the British record industry, a step towards a rectification of these matters was made this week with the UK release of the debut album from singer and musician Alina Orlova. However, for anyone who has been following the progress of the 22-year-old singer/musician, the release will no doubt be accompanied by a sigh and a cry of 'Finally!'; Laukinis Suo Dingo, a title drawn from a teenage romance novel by Soviet Russian writer Ruvim Fraerman, was in fact released two years ago in Orlova's native Lithuania where she is now considered something of a celebrity.
While you may inevitably now have in mind a songstress along the lines of an Eastern-European Laura Marling, don't go judging just yet. Indeed, just a few moments of the opening track should be enough to pitch Orlova a fair distance away from your idea of the generic young, female folk singer. Entitled 'Lovesong', what in fact winds its way into your ears is nothing of the sort; this is an initiation of maudlin tone, Orlova almost maniacally requesting over and over that you should 'Open up your heart' to her, a menagerie of seemingly mismatched instruments bounding beneath her.
So, now she has your attention (and if you haven't already run a mile) you're rewarded with 'Vaiduokliai', a charming track that manages to maintain emotional gravitas without sacrificing a sense of fun, a mischievous piano sequence coupled with a frolicking accordion giving the impression of a mellowed out Gogol Bordello. Hot on its heels comes 'Lijo', Orlova's scintillating vocals and wide-eyed chord sequences contributing to an expansive soundscape despite the minimal instrumental force of piano and strings.
As the tracks flow swiftly by (there are 16 in total and not one lasts longer than three minutes) Orlova's musical brand becomes more and more difficult to pigeon-hole. While she draws heavily on the folk music of her homeland, she blends it in a way that could never alienate, allowing it to flavour her sound without letting it take control. That said, she makes it clear in her songwriting style, in particular her chord structures, that she is also well versed in the rock/pop traditions. The resulting juxtaposition is seamless almost to the point of perfection; it's not until the Regina Spektor-esque 'Nesvarbu' has contrasted with the preceding Eastern-European folk sensibilities of 'Menulis' that your ears really prick up to the wide variation in influences.
As obvious as it may sound, a major issue in regards to Orlova's introduction to a British audience is the language barrier; Orlova frequently flits between Lithuanian, Russian and English. Consequently, keeping tabs on lyrical content is going to prove excruciatingly difficult for an English-speaking audience, not least when the language changes themselves are often indistinguishable; often you realise Orlova has been singing in English for almost an entire song and you've been none the wiser.
If this proves to be a major hurdle in your listening experience, as it understandably might, there is little that can be offered as a solution other than directions to your nearest language school. At the very least, you can console your lyrical ear with Orlova's quirky but dark interpretation of 'Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star'. But if this is an obstacle that might put you off, I'd whole heartedly urge you to continue, for you may find like I did that as time goes by the semantic value we usually attribute to lyrics simply drops away; so emotive is the music on offer here that you begin to wonder how much could possibly be said that might add to the listening experience of Laukinis Suo Dingo. Miniature Orlova's constructions may be but by no means does this restrict her innovative musical talent. Her songs are jam packed with wonders to satisfy your sonic appetite, be it her mercurial, soaring voice, the way she creatively exploits her various ensembles or the imaginative production ideals, as thrilling a finishing coat as any you'll hear this year.
Despite producing wonderfully accessible music, Orlova still possesses the rare ability to surprise her audience. Take, for example the dissonant touches in 'Vasaris' or the emphasis placed simply on the chords and melody in 'Paskutinio Mamuto Daina' when a full blown orchestral explosion might tempt a less refined musical mind. It's adventurous flourishes like these that make the listening experience that little bit more thrilling. If Alina Orlova wants to grace us Brits with her presence then perhaps it's time we brushed up on our Lithuanian. This one's for keeps.