Dusted Reviews

Hala Strana - Hala Strana

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Hala Strana

Album: Hala Strana

Label: Emperor Jones

Review date: Jan. 12, 2004

What separates good psychedelic music from pretentious psych? The term should be dropped from the lexicon anyway, but then we would have to find a replacement. Metaphysical music (isn’t all music metaphysical)? Punk-free? Even Black Flag dabbled in it. So, we must continue to lumber in Wavy Gravy land for the time being. The origin of the term was from the LSD researcher Humphrey Osmond, but these days it’s used to describe everything from a board meeting to a hairstyle. In today’s highly medicated society everyone is either a speed freak or popping downers, so splitting hairs about mind-enhancing music is perhaps irrelevant. Although, it must be noted, speed gave us The Who while LSD gave us The Doors. Pass on the kool-aid next time.

Stephen R. Smith (Thuja, ex-Mirza), under the guise of Hala Strana, has added an amazing album to what is unfortunately being thrown together as new psychedelic folk. As others on Dusted have done excellent work on unpacking this dubious term (first bandied about in neo-colonial fashion by idea-exhausted Brits) it is not necessary to comment further here. Smith is a musician who deserves a MacArthur Genius Grant and a crate of mac and cheese for his prolific and stimulating efforts. Aside from some limited releases on Jewelled Antler Collective, this full length is the first effort of Smith’s new project. Shying away from the usual long-form explorations of his earlier solo work, Hala Strana features 13 short tracks combining Smith’s expressed interest in Eastern European folk elements with his own muse. The story, however, begins a bit earlier..

The origin of the modern Third World began in Eastern Europe, as they were bereft of Roman influence and latecomers to feudalism. The result was harsher bondage for serfs in Eastern Europe than had been seen in the West, and have been in the trappings of subservience to some power (Austro-Hungarian, Soviet) ever since. Of course this all makes for excellent music, which continued throughout the rock era with some spectacular and still undocumented bands (who knows of Omega from Hungary?).

Smith borrows some elements of instrumentation from the folk genre, yet creates genuinely unique songs with it. As Piazzolla reinvented the tango, Hala Strana drives at fusing Smith’s instrumental soundscapes with an ethnic turn. At times this direction is only hinted at, as the album does not stoop to essentialist claims about folk. Instead, I heard more New Zealand than Moravia, with similarities to fellow labelmate Peter Jefferies on several songs. Smith takes a traditional Transylvanian song (“Stouthriel”) and works it over a looped vinyl sample. Another track veers towards Crazy Horse country (the band, not the man). Combine this with beautiful production and engaging instruments (laundry cart, although it sounds like a shopping cart) and the album falls squarely on the side of contemplative and captivating music. There is neither ego-stroking nor sermonizing here. Folk as packaged to us today is dead music, as useful as a crash course in Latin. Others prefer more animate arts; Hala Strana is a haunting and vibrant testimonial begging for a bent ear.

P.S. “In the the perspective of history, our psychiatric and pathological bias is the unusual one. By means of a variety of techniques, from dervish dancing to prayerful contemplation, from solitary confinement in darkness to sniffing the carbonated air at the Delphic oracle, from chewing peyote to prolonged starvation, men have pursued, down the centuries, certain experiences that they considered valuable above all others.” -- Humphrey Osmond

By Kevan Harris

Other Reviews of Hala Strana

These Villages

Read More

View all articles by Kevan Harris

Find out more about Emperor Jones

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.