Greatest Hits 2019

Time now, at the start of the year, to explore some of the reviews you might have missed in the last year or two. Here’s a selection…

Oi Va Voi – Oi Va Voi

If you hadn’t heard of Oi Va Voi, their reappearance in 2007 with their eponymous second album was something of a surprise. Even if you had, I suspect Yuri would have taken you aback somewhat.

On the previous album Laughter Through Tears, they had launched their own career and also that of KT Tunstall with a folksy blend of Balkan, Jewish, and various other sources of music. It was beautiful and sweet, but realistically was never going to be the kind of thing that would yield many huge chart hits.

Yuri, meanwhile, opens the second album, and is lively, very Eastern European in sound, and a huge amount of fun. It’s a piece about the Soviet obsession with space, and if that sounds like an unlikely combination of influences, it definitely is. It’s also absolutely brilliant, in every way.

There really isn’t much else like it on the album, which is definitely something of a shame, although it doesn’t diminish the quality of what is on here. Further Deeper is a melancholic piece full of unusual instrumentation and a great vocal.

There’s a noticeable mix of male and female vocals, which is often lacking on releases like this, and works very well. Look Down has similar instrumentation to its predecessor, but sounds very different, and the vocal helps a lot. It’s another beautiful piece.

After a while, the tracks do start to drift past a little. Dissident is pleasant, and Balkanik is a largely instrumental that does slightly echo Yuri. Then Black Sheep is a sweet folksy piece with contemporary backing that stands out rather more.

Then there’s a short instrumental, Nosim, before the pleasant but forgettable Dry Your Eyes, and then the lovely Worry Lines. The album is disappearing quickly, and that’s a great shame. It’s beautiful, sweet, and also not enormously exciting a lot of the time. Which isn’t entirely a problem – considered as a single piece, it’s a great album. But bluntly, there’s nothing quite as special as Yuri on here, and it could really do with that.

So in a way, the two minute instrumental and spoken word closing track Spirit of Bulgaria is all the more surprising. It’s nice to have something this witty at the end, but some degree of continuity would have been nice too, tying things back to the “Говорит Москва,” (“Moscow is speaking”) sample that opened the album. Given that this album came a full four years after the debut, you would think they might have got a bit more continuity in place.

But then, if you just listen to it as it is, and try to enjoy it, there’s a lot to appreciate here. Hopefully Oi Va Voi returned a couple of years later with the wonderful Travelling the Face of the Globe, and hopefully they will be back again soon with another multinational work.

The album Oi Va Voi is widely available.

Beginner’s guide to Oi Va Voi

If you haven’t heard of Oi Va Voi before, you’ve got something rather exciting to look forward to. Nothing really conjures up Balkan or south-eastern Europe like this group, and if you need a soundtrack to a journey through the old world, this would be a great one to carry with you.

Key moments

Their one hit, 2007’s Yuri, and despite having also launched KT Tunstall‘s career and being enormous in Turkey, you might well not know them for a huge amount else unfortunately.

Where to start

Start with the eponymous Oi Va Voi (2007), as it includes their one and only hit single and a fair cross-section of the other kind of thing they’re capable of.

What to buy

If you need an order for the other two albums, go with 2009’s fantastic Travelling the Face of the Globe next, and finally grab Laughter Through Tears (2003).

Don’t bother with

Nothing really – there aren’t a whole lot of singles to choose from, and the early EP Digital Folklore doesn’t offer a lot that’s unique.

Hidden treasure

The one-off acoustic track Strangers, from 2013, if you can find it anywhere, is well worth a listen.

For stowaways


Chart for stowaways – 3 May 2014

The top ten singles this week looks like this:

  1. William Orbit – Water from a Vine Leaf
  2. Pet Shop Boys – Flourescent
  3. Mike Oldfield – Sentinel
  4. The Grid – Heartbeat
  5. Dirty Vegas – Let the Night
  6. Sister Bliss feat. John Martyn – Deliver Me
  7. Röyksopp & Robyn – Do it Again
  8. Moby feat. Wayne Coyne – The Perfect Life
  9. B.E.F. – Party Fears Two
  10. Oi Va Voi – Dusty Road

Oi Va Voi – Travelling the Face of the Globe

Discovering Oi Va Voi was, for me, one of those happy little accidents which happens from time to time – you just have to be listening to the right radio station at the right time, and the right song comes on. But there’s also something other than just chance at play – because Oi Va Voi are also very, very good. Their third – and frustratingly most recent – album Travelling the Face of the Globe is now exactly five years old, so let’s give it a listen…

First up is Waiting, characteristically brilliant. It’s full of Eastern European instrumentation and a quite fantastic – and strangely appropriate – vocal from Bridgette Amofah, who delivers the vocals on most of the album. The second track is I Know What You Are, perhaps a little less exciting than the first, but still entirely pleasant, although the guest vocal at the half way point does lift it to another level.

Then the title track comes up, with hints of the slightly silly Yuri from their previous eponymous album (2007). It’s a celebration of broadening horizons and finding special places in exotic locations around the world, accompanied by a very lively Balkan (or possibly Ural – I’m no expert) backing track, Cuban trumpets, and plenty more confusing contradictions. And it’s utterly fantastic, too.

The largely acoustic Every Time is a lot more subdued, but is equally special – the chorus, when it turns up nearly two minutes in, is quite exceptional. And similarly S’Brent, written in 1938 in the Krakow Ghetto and delivered in Yiddish, is both beautiful and incredibly poignant.

This album does have its less exciting moments – Magic Carpet pales into insignificance alongside its neighbours, but that’s forgiveable. Dusty Road, though, is possibly my favourite song on the whole album – in mood it’s almost a sadder version of the title track, although now with added country and western influences, but there’s something incredibly catchy and inspired about the song as a whole.

But even at its lowest ebb, this is a very good album – while the later tracks Foggy Day, Wonder, and Stitches and Runs don’t quite grab me in the way the earlier ones did, they never really stop being enjoyable. You’ll still be nodding your head, or enjoying the dark atmospheric journey around Eastern Europe.

A late highlight comes in the form of the lively Long Way from Home, yet another song in the same vein as the title track. It bounces along very merrily, admittedly with a rather poignant vocal. You can practically see the Cossack dancing by the time the middle section turns up, and if that doesn’t give you goose pimples then frankly I don’t know what will.

The last track is Photographs, with a vocal from Dick Rivers which makes it sound like a dark French arthouse film in which absolutely nothing happens. It’s a rather unexpected choice of album closer, so unlike anything else which came before it, but it’s also very good indeed. A fantastic song to close a truly exceptional album.

At their third full outing, Oi Va Voi were every bit as strong as they had ever been, and with a new album supposedly on its way some time soon, there is every reason to be very excited about what their future might hold.

You can find Travelling the Face of the Globe at all major record and download stores, such as here.

Oi Va Voi – Laughter Through Tears

One of my favourite discoveries of recent years is Oi Va Voi. Bringing together a bizarre blend of new vocalists, Balkan, Slavic, and otherwise obscure rhythms and melodies, alongside very soft and gentle electronic backing, they’re really quite unusual, and quite brilliant too.

Their first full album Laughter Through Tears was released ten years ago this week, and far from the sillier sound which followed on subsequent albums (I’m looking at you, Yuri), it’s sedate and beautiful whilst also being contemporary and experimental. That’s quite a combination.

The opening track is the single Refugee, featuring KT Tunstall on vocals, and it’s really rather excellent. Immediately, within seconds of pressing play, you’re transported to another part of the world entirely.

Tunstall turns up on a number of tracks, although I’m not convinced any of the others offer the sheer power of RefugeeYesterday’s Mistake has a pleasant trippy rhythm, but is sadly a little forgettable. Od Yeshoma is similarly nice to listen to, with an intriguing vocal, as is the unpronounceable A Csitari Hegyek Alatt.

There are songs in all manner of languages and encompassing all manner of styles, which I think is why I like it so much. This particular one is in Hungarian, and was also sung by a male singer on the preliminary version of the album Digital Folklore the previous year.

Ladino Song is partly in Spanish, and has a wonderful Spanish guitar feel to it as well, with KT Tunstall popping up again for the vocal. The single 7 Brothers, with its slightly impenetrable vocal, is great too. There are times when you want to turn around and scream “Sing in English!” if only to find out what they’re actually on about.

That was a joke, obviously.

This is also an album that’s considerably easier to listen to than it is to find things to write. Subsequent albums Oi Va Voi (2007) and Travelling the Face of the Globe (2009) mix the softer more “ethnic” material with livelier tracks and really keep you on your feet. Laughter Through Tears is more subdued, more relaxed, and entirely pleasant, but seemingly very difficult to review. This might be quite a short blog.

D’ror Yikra is really sweet, and Gypsy introduces some really unusual styles, presumably from the world of the Romani people. It also has an almost rap style vocal, which makes it very memorable and fun to listen to. Hora is a very pleasant piece too.

The final track is Pagamenska, closing off the album with a spoken Jewish vocal introducing us to the expression “Oi va voi,” from which the band get their name. And the final track is a beatsier version of 7 Brothers to bring proceedings to a final close. I might have struggled a bit to put words to it, but it’s a great album, and one which I always enjoy hearing.

Laughter Through Tears doesn’t appear to be available through iTunes, so you’ll need to get a real copy.

Playlist for stowaways – Flight Risk

There’s a new Playlist for stowaways out there! The monthly (OK, bi-monthly) mixtape is online again with an hour of excellent music. In my opinion, anyway.

This month’s is called Flight Risk, and is all about flying, travelling, and generally the sort of thing I like to listen to when I’m on the move. Take a listen here.

The tracks go as follows:

  1. Alpinestars – Jump Jet
  2. Ladytron – International Dateline
  3. Jean Michel Jarre – Oxygène (Part 8)
  4. Lemon Jelly – Ramblin’ Man
  5. Oi Va Voi – Travelling the Face of the Globe
  6. I Monster – Heaven
  7. Mylo – Sunworshipper
  8. Yello feat. Heidi Happy – Kiss in Blue
  9. Moby – Flying Over the Dateline
  10. Pet Shop Boys – Two divided by zero
  11. The Beloved – A Dream within a Dream
  12. 808 State – Pacific 707
  13. Utah Saints – Trance Atlantic Flight
  14. Goldfrapp – Pilots (On a Star)
  15. Aphex Twin – Ageispolis

Edit: this time I remembered to include the link…

Playlist for stowaways – Pilot

It snuck out there slightly, as I hadn’t realised it would go live immediately, but this is the first ever Playlist for stowaways. MFS001 is called Pilot, and can be found at Mixcloud:

Here’s the full tracklist:

  1. Margaret Berger – Pretty Things in Life
  2. Deep Forest – Yuki Song (Remix)
  3. Moist feat. Maria Marcus – Not Alone
  4. The Future Sound of London – Eggshell
  5. Erasure – Rock Me Gently (Bamboo)
  6. Oi Va Voi – S’Brent
  7. Little Boots – Hearts Collide
  8. Moby – Pale Horses

There’s no theme, and no frills. Just thirty minutes of great music.

And there will be more in a month or so. Please send your feedback my way!