Zavoloka – Plavyna
Zavoloka’s album is the most accessible release I’ve received yet from Ukrainian label Nexsound. This is bleepy, glitchy IDM, taking cues from Autechre and Aphex Twin, but really of its own unique style. Rhythms are often subtle – even suggested – but even in its most free-flowing and abstract moments, there is a sense of order and organization here. I really enjoy the experience that Zavoloka has created with these ten tracks, as this seems to have found a perfect balance between IDM and experimental electronic music. Melody is the one fleeting ingredient here – Zavoloka seems more content to work on atmospherics and complex compositional architecture – but with that said, there is still enough tunefulness to keep an open-minded ear entertained. Favourite moments include the warped woodwinds on “Teche Voda Ledo” and the dense melodies and rhythms of “Rankova.” This is perfect listening for a detached, sleepless 4am winter night.
The Moglass – Sparrow Juice
The Ukraine’s Moglass are one of my favourite experimental electronic acts (ever since I encountered their Telegraph poles are getting smaller and smaller as the distance grows album a long time ago), and Sparrow Juice makes no attempts to counteract that opinion. This isn’t your typical experimental electronic act though, as these improvisers tend to use many more live instruments than many of their peers on the scene. Computers, synths, and field recordings make appearances but don’t overbear more organic sounds coming from guitars, bass, saxophone, and even voice. The result is an epic, atmospheric-but-listenable record that feels right at home playing into a pitch black room. There is a foreboding, eerie sense exuded by Sparrow Juice, with lots of reverb lending the sounds a distant, almost cathedral-like openness. I kind of see a slight post-rock flare in the more cohesive and song-like offerings on this disc, though the more structured nature of that genre should not be confused with this predominantly abstract release.
The album, though consistently soundscape-based, varies from the ambient drone of “Revisited With K.” and “Krevptok Legkiy Riad” (which both use synths and static-like noise) to more guitar-infused, post-rock semi-melodic material like “Maya Britanova” and “Indirect News”. Meanwhile, eleven minute freeform improv work “Leering Raspberries” lays on the acoustic guitar plucking heavily, with sifting bleeps and electro bubbles steaming in the background. The record closes off with “Asumuth Vibrating,” which is a powerful, Fennesz-esque finale that seems to whisk by in a startlingly beautiful haze. Clearly, Sparrow Juice is not a record that deserves to be panned or glanced over. I suggest you buy this, turn out the lights, and let it play. That way, there’s no way you can ignore what truly amounts to a wonderful experimental soundscape album.
The Moglass – Telegraph poles are getting smaller and smaller as the distance grows
The Moglass is a Ukrainian outfit recording on the Nexsound label who create drone / experimental works of free improv that are both relaxing and thoroughly engaging. The band’s style reminds me of a more abstract Godspeed You Black Emperor!, combining an epic feel with experimental ideas to form strong, emotional pieces that are distinctly avant-garde yet still remarkably melodic. Guitar improvisation is common throughout their debut album, Telegraph poles are getting smaller and smaller as the distance grows, as are long drones and a spacey, airy texture.As song titles are not given with Telegraph poles…, it is clear that The Moglass intended for the album to be taken as a whole. And as one big piece, it is very powerful. Listened to in a dark atmosphere with little extra sensory stimulation, the album is moody and at times a bit frightening. It is at once evil and beautiful; hauntingly resonating ambiances are fueled by guitar, drone, and field recordings.
Be warned, however, this is not a disc that you can toss aside and let fade into the background. Telegraph poles…, criminally limited to a mere 500 copies, is one of the year’s most complexly powerful albums; as long as you aren’t the type who’s bored to bits by avant-garde soundscapes, you’re bound to be moved in some way by this terrific disc.
Saralunden + Andrey Kiritchenko – There was no end
From Ukranian label Nexsound’s more pop-minded imprint, PQP, comes this EP collaboration between knob-twiddling sound sculptor Kiritchenko and singer Saralunden. The result is an abstract pop experience somewhat akin to Carla Bozulich’s Evangelista album, but less morose. Beginning with “Come With Me,” the duo proves that viable melodies can be constructed out of droning synths, handclaps, and manipulated vocals. Beautifully unsettling “Oh So Blue” follows, floating by in a bizarre flush of lush singing, eerie field recordings, and distant, echoing guitar; album closer “Tonight” occupies a similar domain. Folky and melodic “Take Your Chance When You Have It” could be the album’s most conventional song (although I use that term lightly), but “Erotic Dreams” is the most memorable – its keyboard-laden melody fits perfectly into Kiritchenko’s manner of digital manipulation, resulting in a bare-boned but infectious piece of ambient pop that sounds like a futuristic Henry Cow lullaby. With so many people relying on tired rock/pop traditions these days, sometimes you need to look in unlikely places to find people producing melodies in original ways. Here’s a tip: head to Ukraine.
Nole Plastique – Escaperhead
Russian duo Nole Plastique (Roman Kutnov and Aleksei Belousov) are a “romantic noise” band recently transformed into a more pop-oriented affair, and hence Escaperhead finds itself as the third release on Nexsound PQP. PQP, for those unaware of such matters, is the more melodic sublabel of Ukraine’s Mego, Nexsound.
Nole Plastique describe Escaperhead as a sixties psych-rock influenced venture cross-bred, of course, with their penchant for experimental electronics and digital knob-twiddling. The thing has the makings of the second coming of Caribou’s Andorra, but instead Nole Plastique have created a far stranger brew of otherworldly “pop.” This, of course, means Escaperhead is a much less accessible piece of music that Andorra, but it happens to be an engaging one nonetheless.
Much like the decades of psychedelia that they draw inspiration from, Nole Plastique seem determined to smash convention with this record, and this is communicated well in the cacophonously melodic, Mouse on Mars-esque pseudo-orchestration of “In Things Around” and the strangely listenable sonic cornucopia of “Blue Fries.” Meanwhile, NP is at their best on moody Mars melody “…Rolled in Slice’ and glitch-cum-guitar-exploration “In Case You Fall In.”
At times, NP could be criticized for being a touch too loose and disorganized – Escaperhead lacks the sort of instrumental textures found on more polished pop outings. However, this can be attributed to the psych-folk leanings of Kutnov and Belousov. On the other end, I wonder if some of these songs (“Sunset Stipple,” “Wavy Red”) might have sounded better if the vocals were a touch more tuneful, but perhaps NP’s years behind laptops and knob panels have limited their vocal registers to an extent.
Overall, however, Escaperhead is an experiment that works. These eleven soundscapes are beautiful moodpieces – collisions between sixties rock and futuristic electronics that evoke sunsets, busy streets, intergalactic expeditions… Check your expectations at the door.
Kotra – Dissilient
Kotra’s Dmytro Fedorenko has background in noise bands and mathematics, but even knowing that I wasn’t prepared for the experimental soundart that comprises Dissilient. On these twenty-one brief compositions, the listener is confronted with all sorts of noise, sometimes harsh, sometimes unbearably strident. The experience is often frustrating, but something interesting lies under the surface; these pieces are, in fact, strangely hypnotic. If you let yourself lie back and listen to this in the dark, you’ll notice how well the sounds come together. Amidst the abrasive noise and the high-frequency screeches, there is a definitive sense of precise order; though random, these sounds work together to produce an atmosphere that’s at once mechanical and human. It’s hard to define what makes this “music” so enjoyable – indeed, I doubt I’ll be compelled to listen to Dissilient too often in the future – but there’s something about Fedorenko’s soundscapes that, if given the chance, could really change the average listener’s perception of music.
I/DEX – Seqsextend
It seems Nexsound, the impressive Ukrainian experimental electronic imprint, can do no wrong. I/DEX’s Seqsextend album is Nexsound’s eighteenth release, and it is living proof that label owner Andrey Kiritchenko is still on top of the glitch scene. I/DEX’s Vitaly Harmash, hailing from the fine country of Belarus (or Byelorussia, depending on your preferred Cyrillic interpretation), is Nexsound’s latest find, and yet again it’s a doozy. Seqsextend will be classified as glitch, although its strong compositional structure makes for a remarkably accessible listen. Harmash is no stranger to rhythm and melody, and while these tracks are often experimental in many respects, they still turn out very listenable. The I/DEX style is typically quite relaxing, filled with comforting synths and lush, pulsating rhythms. Even the most avant-garde moments tend towards accessibility – “Doc,” as an example, confronts the listener with layers of shifting electronics, but is still somewhat tuneful and [beatlessly] rhythmic.
It is easy to say that most glitch music is boring, and to some extent it is quite true. However, if anyone can honestly pass on Seqsextend after giving it a concentrated, thorough listen, they need to seriously reexamine their priorities. Albums from Belarus are rare, but albums this good are rarer – I/DEX has produced something infinitely listenable with a genre that often strives to ward off most audiences … take notice.
Bluermutt – Decivilize after consumption
Decivilize After Consumption brings on more melodic electronic quirkiness from fine Ukrainian imprint Nexsound’s PQP series. Andrey Kiritchenko and his unique label have been carving out an intriguing niche for themselves on the electronic scene, and Bluermutt’s avant-mess of techno, electro-pop, and post-rock is a fine addition to the ongoing story. This record is an elaborate and melodic journey with several highlights. Opener “Welcome to a Bluer Blue Sky” is a whimsical yet foot-moving romp, while the absolute top of the tops on this disc is the one-two punch of cranial post-rock/electro gem “Fukikin’ Jimmy from Here” and brooding soundscape “Jimmy Coda.” The rest of the disc has its share of highs (Plone-esque “Before Going to Bed,” urgent finale “More About Him Later”) and lows (bland “Old School Lesbians vs. the 21st Century,” irritating “Metallic Concepts for D and M”), and even a Family Guy sample, but the overall impression is certainly a positive one. Keep Bluermutt in mind.