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East-Ra

East-Ra is the solo project of Dino Santaleza who hails from Labin, a small village in Croatia located in the Istra region.

East-Ra

East-Ra

Many thanks to Robbie who  took the time from his schedule to write this review.


After being lucky enough to speak to Dino it became clear that Istra has a rich history of song and dance, with its music featuring scales and instruments unique to the region. Since 2008 East-Ra has released a trio of albums, all of which are freely available to download and feature a lot of variety. From psychedelic-tinged folk and rock to completely out-there Dadaist freak-outs, I feel there’s something here for everyone. Allow me to elaborate by taking a glance at these releases.

First up is 2008’s Cold Summer, which features some surprisingly polished songwriting and musicianship beneath the lo-fi production. The album hits me as a combination of classic folk music with a psychedelic edge, a mixture I would like to see more of. The second track Blind has a driving percussive quality while Winter Days and Cherry feature delicate guitar playing, though these are among the few tracks which feature notable progression. Near the end of the album lurks Downloading , which comes across as one of those zany bonus tracks you’d usually find at the end of an album put there for the devious amusement of the band. It’s pretty uncomfortable listening and doesn’t do much for the album in my humble opinion. The same could be said for the varying recording quality of the tracks, which at times sound like they were recorded in a small pub! I think a greater emphasis on the fusion of folk and experimentalism would have made this debut release really stand out but it’s still worth a listen for its better moments.

Released under a year later, Sutra is an altogether different beast. Featuring lyrics in a Croatian dialect spoken in Labin, the album goes in a very different direction and flows between twisted European folk music and the avant-garde. Kamamila I Kafe begins as a somewhat bluesy track before launching into an unusual prog-tinged finale, which is a very positive mixture to me. Kurac Blues is a similar track, full of strange progressions and indecipherable lyrics. Title track Sutra is another odd beast, with Eastern drones and a bouncing bass line beneath an exuberant lead guitar. Overall the album is unfocused; a mixture of blues riffs, distorted vocals and unusual instrumentation which largely fails to hit the mark. Like the debut release there are a couple of standout tracks on here and the album certainly has its own sense of character, aspects which many modern releases lack.

Finally there is 2011’s Substitute 3, which opens with the surreal Shizmu & Hitis. Truly, I have rarely heard a more daring first track to an album; a collection of chromatic notes, thumps and whistles which suggest an experimental approach for the songwriting to follow. That assumption would be correct, with tracks such as Apocalypse Party and St. George Went to India displaying a seemingly random collection of notes and noises played over a modest rhythm. Once again there are a couple of standout tracks, such as Feathers in which more intricate percussion lays down an interesting framework for the experimentalism, and album finale Spring into Relief which is a 13-minute epic which is for the most part a soft psychedelic journey before launching into an aggressively bizarre tirade.

There are elements within these three releases which work and others which simply do not. Perhaps if the artist were to take the more tangible elements of each release and form them into a fresh release we would see something truly magical from East-Ra. Hopefully a fourth release will capture the fresh originality which East-Ra is capable of and package it in a slightly more digestible form. The pairing of folk and blues with psychedelic elements and the odd freak-out is a recipe for success in my opinion; hopefully the artist won’t rest on his laurels and will create something which defines the vision of the project. This is not your average psychedelic rock experience; it can be quite heavy going at times and there are definite gems to be discovered. Hopefully the East-Ra project will raise awareness of the burgeoning Croatian music scene, as it has certainly opened my eyes.

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