Vol 1, No 18
25 October 1999
A L B U M R E V I E W:
Vrooom: Torpedo Music
It often seems that those bands and individuals who have made a lasting presence for themselves in the rather subjective realm of "good music" are those which define or exemplify a genre. Bands that continually challenge the listener tend to find their niche sooner or later, and as a result become recognized and respected not only for their ability to please the listener, but also for their ability to make the listener think.
Vrooom (yes, three Os), based in Belgrade, is just such a band. To the uninitiated ear, Vrooom's recent self-produced album, Torpedo Music (with all songs except Cigancica composed by Marko Grubic and arranged by Vrooom), comes as a shock to the listener's system, with rhythms and melodies coming from all angles. In the words of Vrooom guitarist, Marko Njezic, their music is "a blend of very different musical expressions - from Balkan ethno influences, through cabaret to contemporary musical styles of the West, such as techno, drum 'n' bass, rock, etc, interpreted with a unique sound, utilizing vocals, accordion, fretless bass, electric guitar, bass, acoustic drums, electronic drums and sampled sequences."
To be sure, their music is heavy on the Balkan influence, which is, for the unwitting, a rather chaotic amalgamation of both Eastern and Western rhythms that is characteristic of South Eastern Europe as a result of the Turkish and Habsburg presence in the region throughout history. The rhythms are often syncopated, involving complex time signatures and polyrythms, which seem to be second nature for the band as they address them head on and with a surprising ease of execution.
At home in Belgrade, Vrooom often plays after theater performances or in local clubs. However, the popular music scene in Belgrade, and Yugoslavia in general, like elsewhere, tends to be rather homogenous and Vrooom does not fit easily into the now-universal mold of pop success. This does not seem to bother the band though, as their originality speaks for itself.
Besides the unorthodox use of rhythm inherent in their music and their decidedly eclectic lineup of instruments, Vrooom adds another dimension to their existence by collaborating with the independent Torpedo Theater Company (see Anja Susa's article on Yugoslav theater in this issue of CER), also based in Belgrade. In fact, the aptly named Torpedo Music, is a result of their collaborations with the theater company - nine of the eleven songs on the album were written for, and performed live during Torpedo's performances. Vrooom's involvement with the theater has also allowed them to play at theater and music festivals around Europe, including in Slovenia, Bulgaria, Romania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Switzerland, helping them to gain international recognition.
To a large degree Vrooom's strong ties with the theater are reflected on Torpedo Music, where the performances often lapse into theatrical interpretations of music, rather than the musical interpretations of theater they were intended to be. Highlights on the album include the fast-paced stomper Cigancica (Little Gypsy), with its haunting, circus-like accordion lines as well as the repetitive and deep bass line at the bottom. Like all songs on the album, Cigancica, a traditional Yugoslav song reworked by Vrooom, is driven by the fast paced and syncopated electronic drum work of Branislav Potic.
The drum 'n' bass influence is strong on the following track, Brza svadba (Fast Wedding), with Potic and accordion player Darko Veljic seemingly involved in an exhausting dual of percussion and melody. In fact, Veljic's wild accordion solo recalls the breakneck-paced saxophone solos of Charlie Parker at times. This is one of the loosest songs on the album, with each member of the band stretching their instruments' limitations at different tempos and rhythms, yet bringing everything together around a common theme - the floating bass line somewhere in the middle of it all.
Parce noci (The Peace of Night) displays the band's ability to slow things down with a haunting wood block keeping time like Edgar Allan Poe's tell tale heart in the background. The accordion and bass trade licks back and forth and work around a common theme, bringing it to a small crescendo right at the end, while the wood block's tempo gets ever-more syncopated.
The next track, Ubica (Murderer), is a sparse musical mosaic of sound, with the bass and drums taking turns at filling up the empty space. In fact, each band member seemingly left their ego at home the day they made the album, as there isn't a moment on the album where one of the musicians seems to be vying for position, and this track is a perfect example. Each member is confident in his role and the result is a solid and coherent collection of compositions.
Red Stains, the final track on the album and the only one sung in English, (written for Torpedo's performance of Anthony Shaffer's The Murderer) is a cabaret-tinged song with a dash of the blackest humor on the side. This song not only exemplifies Vrooom's wicked sense of humor and playfulness, but also their willingness to take risks. The chorus, "Red stains on the carpet, Red Stains on the knife / Oh Dr Buck Rookston, you just killed your wife" is sung in an ironic Sinatraesque tone, adding to the absurdity of the lyrics.
Throughout the album the band does a magnificent job of responding to other members of the band, leaving the listener marveling at their ability to listen to and play off one another - an imperative of thoughtful music. Vrooom's music is not for those who want to instantly comprehend what they are listening to however. In that respect, the album is not for everyone. The songs, most of which are instrumental with what few lyrics there are sung in Serbian (save for Red Stains), are rather more like musical journeys, or short stories. The mood of the album is markedly dark and melancholy, but at the same time the humor of the band shines through with unexpected changes and odd lyrics. This juxtaposition of humor and melancholy adds to the over all appeal of the album, as the listener is constantly entertained and surprised throughout the album.
Robert Young, 25 October 1999.
To order Torpedo Music email Vrooom
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