According to the CIA, Latvia’s most valuable exports are wood, machinery and equipment, metals, textiles and foodstuffs. The quartet Beat Milk Jugs are hoping to be added to that list soon, and offer up their debut album 10 Years of Hangovers as proof of merit.
Hailing from the country’s cultural hotspot Daugavpils, the band’s sound is a sometimes refreshing, sometimes overdone cocktail of European rave, western ambient, electronica, rock and Depeche Mode’s dark synth pop. If that sounds like a lot of ingredients, it is – and the songs do tend to come overflowing with beats, samples and soundcapes – but there are plenty of moments of originality and intricacy. Big Milk Jugs’ two stylistic trademarks are the juxtaposition of acoustic and clean electric guitars over sleek, hard beats, and theatrically deep, mournful vocals a la Dave Gahan. ‘Gypsy Romance’ is a good example of this combination, showcasing both a euphoric rave chorus and some gnarly, machine-like percussion as well as the trademark guitar riffs.
There are some echoes of Prodigy-esque pomp (on the big beat-tastic opener ‘Dvina’ and the rave-rock travesty ‘Welcome to Heaven’), but the way BMJ use unorthodox, distorted and fragmented percussion loops is reminiscent of the last These New Puritans record. ‘My Burrow’ is positively threatening in its oddness and sees the singer emulate Jack Barnett’s cold-hearted sneer, while it sounds like a studio is falling to pieces around him.
‘In/Out’ features some female vocals, but with its dreary acoustic guitar chords, tinkling piano, super-bland lyrics (“Swinging over/like a happy loaded gun”) is perilously close to being mistaken for an Evanascence ballad.
10 Years of Hangovers is a very uneven record: The glitch-y, jerky effects which make ’7th Street’ so interesting are dragged down by the uninspired vocals (it would have made a fantastic ambient/electro instrumental), and the use of bog-standard guitar chord progressions sits a bit uncomfortably with breaks as innovative as on ‘Dvina’. But it is at least as valuable as one of those reliable units of Latvian factory equipment.