Arsen Dedić – 1973

Raise of hands, when was the last time you actually heard music from Croatia or Serbia? When was the last time you actually cared enough to look for some? If, you didn’t raise your hand, well today I’ve got something special for you. Hailing from the Dalmatia region from what was then Yugoslavia, and now is Croatia, Arsen Dedić contributes today’s track of the day. His groove is one we might be sort of familiar with, but then again its a groove that at times sound so unique and solitary. However, once you hear it, its not easily forgotten and musically puts you in the turmoil filled place of its creation.

Arsen, although unknown to us, is extremely well known in the Eastern Bloc region both as a poet, literary writer, and musician. Nothing in his life was gifted to him. Being born of Serbian and Croat blood, his early family life was filled with periods of navigation around ethnic-borned strife and poverty inculcated from years of trying to overcome his status, both of his parents were illiterate and his dad taught him orally how to play music. Quickly, from a young age, he realized the value of education. He initially studied law and looked towards a career in that field, however something about music always sparked something inside him. Stunningly, he quit his track in law and enrolled in Zagreb’s Music University, not even thinking twice whether the arts degree he received will provide the success he needed to survive. No matter, if you ever hear his voice you’ll notice instantly how distinct it sounds. In the early 60’s, that baritone voice, would allow him to command pop festival stages and release wildly successful folk-influenced albums. Something inside him was stirring though.

From an early age, he was supremely gifted in being able to condense and interpret nearly any classical composition style he heard. Somehow, as he kept publishing poetry, something he was uniquely gifted in as well, he never, up that point, had thought about taking the baton into his own hand and combining those two talents. However, by 1973, when he was looking to record Homo Volans (The Flying Man), lots of things triggered some kind of a-ha! moment.

Homo Volans album cover.

Influenced by Chanson singers like Charles Aznavour, Sergio Endrigo, and bards like Bulat Okudzhava and Fabrizio De Andre (who re-imagined colloquial folk songs into pulsing, breathing statements)…all of whom were toying around with adapting classical arrangements with poetry, Arsen saw a way to combine modern classical techniques with other outre influences like Scott Walker‘s and Leo Ferre‘s whose vocal styles and rock experiments were more than adapting to modern times. Hearing such changes, Arsen’s intuitive mind knew he could release some kind of aural potpourri showcasing all myriads of styles modern troubadour music can create. In a nutshell, this is the stuff musicians like Neil Hannon and Antony Johnson wished they had the chops to pull off. Taking full advantage of some of the freedom Yugoslavia enjoyed as it transitioned into the Post-Tito, freer, socialist society, Arsen present a very distinct form of Eastern European music.

The track of the day, provides that statement of modernity that both titillates and alarms. Displaying all the arranging talents at his disposal, with the avant-garde balladry of “Mirni Podstanar” (Peaceful Tenant) you can hear how effortlessly he combines jazz, modern classical minimalist music, beat soul, and his gorgeous voice into a shocking sound more reminiscent of the much later released work of Scott Walker like Tilt or Pola X than anything else in its era. That’s not to say, that this is the reason you should expect the rest of the album to sound like this…but its a great idea of the experimentation Arsen attempts to do…and f’in pulls off like a master. For sure, some of the other tracks in the album sound so lovely and beautiful, and are as varied in emotion and sound, that for me to say that this track is representative of his vision short changes him. I can’t recommend highly enough listening to some of the bonus tracks I stick near the bottom of this post, some rare grooves lay ahead…

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Bonus track time, the majestic accordion sway of “Vrtovi Malih Kuca”(Small Garden House)…

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and the gorgeous, simply gorgeous modernist, cosmopolitan string balladry of “Ti trebaš ljubavi” (You Need Love)…

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stuff like this, sure strikes some nerve right?

Since, the album hasn’t been released ever in the US, I’ve placed a link to download the full album here if you’d like to listen to it in full.

Homo Volans album.