I must say that I am firmly lodged on the fence regarding Valina’s latest EP, Epode.
This is the band’s third release, with the first two on a label from their native Austria. Moving on to 54°40’ or Fight!, this label has the odd habit of using pictures of James K. Polk as an emblem. As you may know, Polk was our eleventh president who was a firm believer of “Manifest Destiny.” Apparently so is 54°40’ or Fight!
Valina was formed in 1995 in Linz, Austria. This three-piece composed of Anatol Bogendorfer, who sings and plays guitar (while his name confounds my spell-check) is rounded out by Florian Huber on bass and Claus Harringer on drums.
To be fair, one of my problems with the band was a purely technical issue that was absolutely none of their fault. The original CD sent to me would not play on any of the many players I have laying about the place. Our intrepid editor Kim launched into action and burned me a copy that for some reason played beautifully. However, songs had the jarring and irritating quality of ending at what seemed to be close to the end, but not the actual end. It’s sort of like She’s So Heavy on Abbey Road. Anyway, it was only after comparing my copy with the versions on the website that I realized it must have been a flaw in the copying process. I guess the moral of the story is that Valina and I got off on the wrong foot.
Epode begins with “Entel Echo,” which is full of up-tempo drums heavy on the snare and loud guitar. It is a good song, but it does highlight my main qualm with the band, the vocals. In most of the songs the words are delivered off-key, which mars otherwise good songs. It sounds as if Anatol is reaching for notes just a little out of his range.
The EP continues at much the same sound and pace with “Eriny,” but slows the trip down with “81 Men Without Memory”. This is a soft and mournful song with a simple acoustic guitar overlaid with the contrabass. It’s quite a departure from the previous songs and shows the duality of Valina.
“Escort of Soda” begins with Anatol singing a cappella in a hollow chamber filled with echoes, but with a bit-o-time, Valina gets down to the business of rocking and once again uses the frenetic drumming and loud guitar. It falters a little bit when the song seems to disintegrate into free-form jazz replete with tenor sax, but they manage to pull it together without losing too much momentum.
Epode ends with “Epilogue,” which is appropriately named for its placement on the EP. I enjoyed this simple and classical song that seems to follow a growing trend of artists beginning or ending albums with purely instrumental songs. It’s pretty sweet and sounds as if it is several contrabasses, but is listed as a solo.
In the end, Epode turned out to be pretty good, despite my technical difficulties. My only complaint really comes down to the vocals, and only a select few musicians are able to transcend that stumbling block. I can see why they are often compared to Fugazi, so if this sounds interesting to you then check out the Valina mp3 on the label’s website.