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Happiness Is a Learned Condition

A few years ago, I was driving home late at night. It was raining and I was tired and the only station worth listening to was the local NPR station which was working its way through some pretty esoteric stuff: some electronic pieces spliced with songs and sound effects and what seemed like radio theater, but bizarre radio theater, you know? Like something Douglas Adams would have thought up--- The Restaurant at the End of the Galaxy kind of stuff. I'm driving and the music is pulsing and stopping and pulsing and stopping and I'm enjoying it. This is not my kind of music, normally, but I'm really enjoying it and I fall into kind of a trance with the music and the whishing sound of the tires through rain on the road and the windshield wipers slapping the rain away to the left and to the right. I was in my own private bubble, it seemed, plowing my way through an alternate universe, one controlled by sounds and music and, for a short cinematic moment, several Popeyes suspended in space, all of them speaking the same line over and over again with the sounds and the music as accompaniment.

Now, this is going to sound a bit out there, but I felt a oneness with that universe for that short time and have since experienced a certain admiration for the person who put that set together. I listen to music all the time and had not experienced anything quite like it in my many years as vinyl junkie/record whore and figured I probably would not again, what with the probabilities that the stars would line up like that being slim and all, and then I heard .

Eturnity is Eva Turnova, who claims Prague as home. It is important to note that she lists it as Prague, Czech Republic and not Prague, Czechoslovakia which is how it was known in the various public school systems in the US until fairly recently. She is of that culture, one little studied by the vast majority in the United States, and that may have influenced her music and, then again, maybe not, for Eva Turnova's music as laid out on Happiness Is a Learned Condition is universal. I knew it the second I heard the beginning of Freight Train, a track which planted me in my seat with that same rush I felt that night in the car. All I could think was, this is it! This is the same music I heard that night in the car! Well, maybe not the same, but similar.

This album is a gem. Freight Train is a slow, rolling ride into a drowsy black hole, a constant chord hovering over a slow-starting engine before a rhythm takes over, guitar-driven, funky and almost out of place but perfect behind Turnova's dark and sultry vocals. The repeated “Freight Train” is the mere beginning of the dark, yet hopeful side, the hope being in the music and the rhythm but in the lyrics only at the end: “I laid myself down on the tracks and I learned how to crawl,” it starts, “And I learned about humility and I learned about my second head. I laid myself down on the tracks and I learned how to crawl,” she continues, “And I learned about humility and I learned about my second heart.” Jesus, I thought as I read the lyrics while hearing the music for the first time, where is this going? Not too far into it, she sings, “Until the day the second head chopped off the first and the first heart plunged a knife into the second, and now I'm left with only one head looking behind and only one heart beating.” With lyrics like that, you only hope that the supporting music holds up. It does. Through a kind of understatement, the music weaves itself through the lyrics and carries them forward, toward that hopeful end. This is a look deep inside, a destruction of self and a rebirth. It is a Freight Train.

Freight Train was the second track I heard, of course. A Wolf That's Left His Cage precedes it on the album and while they flow together, A Wolf has the flowing sense of a beautiful underwater swim, sunlight filtering down from above with the electronic semblance of dolphins thrown in for good measure. It is ethereal and floating and Turnova's voice is elegance, though a bit dark.

After Freight Train is the pulsing and totally danceable Stranger Angel, something one might hear in the background of a night club scene of CSI Miami, hypnotic and trancelike with echoed effects laid on top. The keyboards keep the musical plane level and Turnova talks as much as sings over what could be sounds of a political rally of some sort, but maybe not. It doesn't matter. It fits together beautifully.

Two Butterflies: “There was a king,” she starts in her imperfect English. 'There' is closer to 'dare' and one has to wonder why European vocalists strive so hard to sing like they just got off the streets in L.A. The accent adds to the surreal sound and the effects wrap around everything seamlessly, as if this is the way it is meant to be.

Follow that up with the erotic Tantra Maat, with its hand drums, maybe bongos, and you have the envelope ready to close. Sensual and alluring in its rhythm and sound, it sets up the closer, the barely over a minute Happy Suiciders Theme (Outro), a virtual refrain of the feel of the album without the actual music.

The music on Happiness is not recent. The tracks were recorded at various times from 1999 on, but that does not take away the flow of the music. Listen to this from beginning to end and you have sequence for a reason. Only the ones who don't care toss songs on an album without regard to the music. Turnova obviously cares.

Did I mention that normally, I am not an electronic kind of a guy? I have had my brushes with John Cage and Stockhausen and even Xenakis, not to mention the more to-date and their ilk. No, Turnova is not electronic, but she has a way of folding the electronic into a more musical setting, a bit more cerebral in content and more melodic in style. You hear a lot of things out there which are similar but few as good.

The CD comes with a very nice booklet, photos and lyrics alternating pages, which reinforces my conclusion that Eva Turnova is an artist and not just a recording artist. She picked the photos whether she took them or not. And she included the lyrics. The lyrics are important, the photos striking. It is an impressive package.

There are a number of styles of music out there, it is true, and we all have our tastes. I might not have chosen this but for a long drive on a rainy and lonely night, but I'm glad I did. Happiness Is a Learned Condition is something you don't just listen to, or at least I don't. Hear that? You do not just listen to an album like this. You absorb it. You have been forewarned.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

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