I usually like to get this post to a nice round number, but I didn’t get it there this year. Here’s what my year sounded like, y’all! This post isn’t ranked; instead, it’s a playlist of sorts. My ranked post will come tomorrow.
I first heard the music of Czech brother-sister duo Dva at SXSW earlier this year. Their unassuming inter-song presence hid a jaw-dropping maelstrom of looped acoustic guitar, vocals and percussion, presented with a powerful confidence that bordered on ferocity. Their album Hu doesn’t quite capture the breathtaking intensity of their live performance nor the intricate care that goes into creating these tunes, but it does show the finished product pretty well.
When playing live, the duo makes the most of what they’ve got: between the two of them there are sung vocals, vocal percussion, astonishingly accurate impressions of animal sounds, a saxophone, acoustic guitar, and improvised percussion. And although it doesn’t sound like it, those pieces (and copious amounts of found sound) compose most of the music in the album. They weave all of this into unique tunes that bend the boundaries of genre. The highlight track is “Hap Hej” (they sing in their native Czech), where a cascading acoustic guitar line is matched by a darting vocal line, animal sounds, an unusual flute, the sax, and looped clicks and clanks for percussion. You’ll have to make up your own words, but you’ll want to. It’s the sort of bubbling, uniquely optimistic track that Jonsi made a name for himself purveying.
“Hap Hej” is the most upbeat of the tunes (save the goofy fun of live knock-out “Tropikal Animal”), but there are gems within the more pensive tunes. “Numie” follows “Hap Hej” and builds a murky mood out of a slow-moving sax line, more percussion clicks and numerous ethereal background vocal lines. Intro “Animak” sets the tone for the album well, layering thoughtful vocals and guitars over a quirky keyboard line. The band plays with the boundaries between sunny and cloudy throughout (“Tatanc,” “Huhu”), creating an interesting listening experience that rewards multiple listens. It’s not the type you get on one listen, which should tell some people everything they need to know.
Dva fancy Hu to be “pop of non-existent radios,” and they’re right in some regards. “Hap Hej” won’t be on many radio stations anytime soon (except for hip college radio stations, perhaps!), no matter how great it is. And it certainly doesn’t sound like Katy Perry. But for adventurous listeners, there’s a lot of interesting and rewarding composition going on in Hu. And if you have a chance to see them live, by all means do it. It will knock your socks off.