Lithuanian project Dónis style themselves as ‘post-folk’, a somewhat nonsensical label in my eyes. The increasing convention of sticking ‘post’ as a prefix onto an established genre is one that is becoming increasingly meaningless and deserves a quick and painless death. Perhaps this post-folk moniker might make one expect a cinematic style of rise or fall, but based around acoustic instrumentation (perhaps you can tell, anything labelled ‘post’ immediately draws my mind to Godspeed You! Black Emperor). That’s not the case here though. The post-folk label seems to refer to modern arrangements of old Lithuanian folk songs, and nothing more.
Death in June during the …Symbols Shatter era could be an easy point of comparison, but Donis’ compositions are more fleshed out with backing instruments and are much less minimalistic than Douglas P.’s works. Bars Bars brings enough variety to the table to avoid the dreaded label of being a ‘Death in June clone’, a problem that is all too common in this scene of music.
The songs are very well composed and performed—there are no problems there. The issues that I take with Bars Bars stem from the album’s production. The acoustic guitar sounds too electric and high-end, like it was recorded through a built-in electric pickup. The first comparison to come to mind was the guitar-work of Drudkh’s folk album, Songs of Grief and Solitude. Roman Saenko’s guitar tone is the only thing that keeps that album from being absolutely perfect in my mind. It similarly mars Dónis’ work to my ears. An organic sound is such an important part of folk music, so to have that natural warmness be completely absent does the mood a disservice. To add to the problem, it’s hard to tell if some of the backing instruments are synthesised or not. The songs are backed by flutes and other wind instruments, occasional electric guitar, and various shakers and percussive instruments. The drum kit is obviously electric, and it doesn’t sound at all natural. It’s so stale that it pushes a few of the songs into the realm of adult-contemporary music.
A tasteful accordion makes an appearance, adding melodies that remind me of Kentin Jivek & Miro Snjedr’s Voir Dire, which was also reviewed here a few months ago. Bars Bars also has shades of that same old-Europa gothic feeling that I picked up from Voir Dire. Frontman Donatas Bielkauskas’s voice is a highlight of the album with his deep yet soft approach. His delivery in resonant tones and whispers is effective, and his vocal melodies are catchy.
The album’s packaging includes the full lyrics to Bars Bars in the project’s native Lithuanian language, but also includes a paragraph or two for each song describing the lyrical concepts in English. In a similar way in which old folk records would often contain the back-stories of the songs in the liner notes, we are not given word-for-word translations, but only a sense of what the song is about. This is an interesting approach which leaves a little bit of mystery and interpretation that is often lacking in music these days; at least for us English speakers. The songs’ lyrical content is appropriately dark, and in a distinctly Baltic sort of way. They speak of love, relationships between immediate family, and a distant sense of longing for lost youth.
Overall, there’s enough solid material on Bars Bars to recommend it for a listen. Some listeners may not have the same issues with the production that I do, and if that’s something that can be overlooked, there’s plenty of catchy melodies to uncover throughout this album. Unfortunately the issues I have with it nag at me enough to limit the chances of repeated listens.
01) Mergyte Mano Mylima
02) Bars Bars
03) Močiute, Širdele
04) Skrenda Sakalas
05) Vidur Lauko
06) Eisim, Broleliai, Namo Namo