As its title implies, this album deals in part with the problems of being a refugee both in the 21st Century as well as in the past – but its overall theme is more to do with the lack of compassion in many modern societies and the distance between us all. The Odd Gifts is the creation of Ondřej Galuška, one of the founding members of the Prague-based Eggnoise. Galuška spent three years as a child in the USA. and the final track ‘The Gift of the Other’ sounds very autobiographical, tying up the stories told here with his own personal experience, and his desire for us to appreciate rather than alienate each other.
Galuška wrote all of the fourteen tracks on ‘Migrant Gifts – okay, he allowed compatriot Antonin Dvořák a co-credit on one track ‘1892’ – and though he sings and plays guitar too it’s by no means a one-man band. The other members of the Odd Gifts (Jaryn Janek on electric guitar and double bass, Michael Nosek on drums and percussion and Jan Mizler on guitars) provide tight support. There’s also a wealth of guest artists dotted all over the album and many of these, though currently resident in Prague, come from other countries, including the UK. This is very appropriate considering the abiding theme of the album.
At first listening , the songs seem rather fragile and don’t make a great impression but subsequent plays will reveal their catchy hook-lines especially on the single ‘Migrant Song’, and the tracks ‘My, What Have I Done to You?’ and ‘Hedgehogs’. There’s a great deal of variety in the tempo, sound and textures of the songs. ’Winnie the Pooh on a Farm’ has a very African rhythm and guitar sound with Moustapha Faye on percussion and Bijou Camara on vocals in an African language.
‘City Chaos’ – by far the shortest track at just over a minute – is a remix of ‘Architecture’ by Eggnoise from 2010 and begins with sounds of demolition followed by multi-tracked acapella vocals by – among others – Samantha Twigg Johnson. ‘Babies in Incubators’ has recurrent pizzicato strings while ‘1892’ has orchestral samples. There’s nice sensitive piano on three tracks by Marek Doubrava and a great trombone/sax/trumpet combo at the end of ‘Migrant Song’. Elsewhere there are occasional synths and a bit of scratching too. On a negative note, the opening track ‘Prayer’ has rather irritating ‘lalala’ vocals but perhaps this was deliberate.
Lyrically it’s a compassionate and sensitive album and one of the most poignant lyrics is in the song ‘Lullaby’ – “They’ll tell you there’s something to die for. You better find something to live for.” ‘We Left’ contains the mantra-like words, “We left the room, we left the house. We left the safety of the town. We left the parents, we left the friends ….” ‘My, What Have I Done to You?’ also gets very personal, “I’ve been in strife with a ghost in my room // Night after night I grow estranged from you // My, what have I done to you?”
This is an enjoyable and thought-provoking collection of songs – it not only has sentiments redolent of the Sixties but is almost a concept album in itself.
Migrant Songs was released on the Indies Scope label on 30 August 2016 and can be purchased from iTunes priced at £7.99.