As much a multi-media collective as a band, Uz Jsme Doma (pronounced ooze smeh DOUGH-ma, and translatable either as “Now We’re at Home,” or “Now I Get It”) has encountered much tribulation at home in the Czech Republic (where rock music was not exactly welcome when the band began in 1985) and varying degrees of ignorance elsewhere. The music is skittish and unpredictable, incorporating rock elements without the influence of Anglo-American song structure. Led by lyricist-songwriter Mirek Wanek, there are at least six musicians on each album, plus a variety of guests who participate in making the next thing heard around the corner unexpected. From punk beginnings, Uz Jsme Doma makes wide-ranging explorations of Slavic folk melodies with operatic overtones and odd time shifts.
Like all their albums, Uprostred Slov (In the Middle of Words) is difficult to pinpoint. Early Pere Ubu and The Ex are possible comparisons, but violin, flute, whistles and bagpipes render the sound impossible to categorize. The centerpiece is the title track — nine minutes of intersecting rhythms which is a workout just to hear — that approximates the loss of individuality of receiving marching orders in battle.
Nemilovany Svet (Unloved World) does the unenviable task of offering the same album twice — first in English, then in Czech (which sounds much better with the music). They again run the gamut from sing-alongs to battle horn cries to fast-paced obliqueness (often in a single song, as with “Mu Je Ha”). “Vylov Rybnika” (“Draining This Pond”) incorporates elements of ska — short piercing horns and fast-riffed guitar — under a menacing revamp of action movie orchestral bombast.
Hollywood begins with the glorious and immediate “Koroze” (“Corrosion”), which goes from a furious drum, sax and keyboard workout to a reggae guitar track sped up fourfold with cries, yelps and screams. The intensity doesn’t drop from there. “Jassica” is pure rock opera, with choral singing as classical music motifs are replicated by the instruments at a breakneck pace.
Fairy tales for people in a non-existent world, Pohadky ze Zapotrebi (Fairytales From Needland) breaks up the stories between long, shifting instrumental passages. Themes are repeated in various songs, lending an element of cohesion to the ebullient chaos. “Vodnik” (“Pond Troll”) tells of the distrust of the song’s main subject against society, ending with the repeated exclamation, “The world is haunted!” Wanek’s lyrics are abstract, but his subjects always appear to be seeking individuality removed from outside observance, or are stuck concentrating on the meaningless minutiae of life.
Jaro, Peklo, Podzim, Zima is a soundtrack to a television documentary about Martin Velisek, the noted Czech artist who has painted the covers for Doma’s releases.