Some very disconcerting noises continue to emanate from the streets of Yekaterinburg, thanks (or due) to the collective known as 4 Pozicii Bruno ("The Four Positions of Bruno"). As ever, the band's members range in number between a trio and quartet: Aleksandr Sitnikov, Nikolai Babak, Anton Klevtsov, and Vladimir Seleznev. That roll call, however, does little to reveal Bruno's mysterious identity. On several occasions we've pointed out his alleged origins. The artists claim "4PB" refers to a Romanian polka of the 1930s that was once created in Bucharest - by a choreographer called Bruno Radulesco. The story appears to be a complete myth.
Yet still the legend develops.. and changes. This week we have the release of "Position Six" - which, judging by the sleeve-notes, would appear to involve members of the older generation under the influence of major tranquilizers (for reasons we'll explain). Put differently, and more directly, "Position Six" is a horizontal stance - adopted by those poor folks who've passed through the experience of modern society.
It is not a sign of health...
Music for Social Adaptation
And then, having moved beyond the CD's unnerving name, we also notice that these ten new compositions, lasting exactly one hour, are designated as "Music for Social Adaptation." The best way to enter civic life, it seems, is to pop a pill - and dull the pain. Dark colors and a lack of focus set the general tone.
As a result, we're presented with sixty minutes of dub-heavy, lo-fi instrumentals, occasionally interrupted by the semi-audible intonation of an official male voice. The first of these bureaucratic figures, even in the opening seconds of "Position Six," appears to be drawing some grim distinctions between the "smooth," trouble-free passage of childhood and what awaits us in later years. The picture is not pleasant.
One of the sampled voices, continuing the same theme, is that of an Orthodox priest taken from local radio - and still the distorted, downtempo dirge rolls on. A spiritual, inclusive potential has become judgmental rant. If there is "salvation" anywhere at large, it is apparently found at the pharmacy, not in church. One of the album's subtitles can even be translated as "Granddad's Tranquilizers." The oldest, most experienced members of society use the most effective tools. And lie down.
In several ways, these new works extend - and exacerbate - the imagery not only of "Position Five," but also of the band's more recent "Myriapods and Heartbreakers" (Mnogonozhki i Serdtseedki). That comparison of insects and humans was enough to plot - with some accuracy - the general outlook of the artists' material for the near future. Grounded on most occasions in downtempo melancholy or industrial fuzz, those recordings evoked the kind of nasty, even demonic threats that apparently lie on the outskirts of Russian typicality.
They multiply quickly.
The thin line between safety and hazard may be located at a city's limit, at one's front door, or - in temporal terms - whenever the sun goes down. The resulting juxtapositions of fantasy and fear have meant in the past, by way of example, that nursery rhymes and ghost stories may be conflated in one and the same 4PB instrumental. On other occasions, we have seen that upbeat, inviting chords - redolent of commercial jingles - are sometimes placed side by side with the discordant clamor of an impending murder.
Then, as now, the distance between pleasure and pain remains minimal. As the final two tracks of "Position Six" tumble from drone into breakcore, the sensation of dead-end existence is, once again, virtually complete.
4 Pozicii Bruno offer a view of ubiquitous, impending mishap that's extended(!) by the Minsk outfit (((О))), who - as their name or logo may suggest - are exponents of modern witch house. That same collective - in the tradition of this gothic, gloomy style - has published a six-track EP through the ODDOT label, called "Funeral Season." The title alone implies an inevitable, recurring period of death and decline - irrespective of human desire.
All accompanying imagery does the same.
Here, as a variation upon overriding pessimism, is how our Belarusian musicians frame their sound: "Dead voices from the underground, plus spooky beats from the darkest corners of an eternal consciousness." And then, all of a sudden, this misery is turned on its head! An admission of individual insignificance becomes the possible key to other, better alternatives. Just as we sometimes read on the "humorous" placards that hang in dusty shops or bars: "Since I Gave Up Hope, I Feel Better." Hope emerges from acquiescence.
The music of (((О))), therefore, is designed to recognize social pressures (including one's memories), in order then to escape them. "These are the funerals for memories that'll kill you - if you don’t have protection [against them]. In fact, you're already dead if you can’t hold on.. and get up from your knees." What sounds like the music of depression or hopelessness slowly becomes, in fact, an accompaniment to endurance. With a diminished sense of agency, admittedly...
These are the funerals for memories that'll kill you - if you don’t have protection [against them]
This reversal of fortune, drawing upon the grandeur of loss in order to fuel an upward, optimistic swing on an equal scale, is embodied by the work of Felix Bondareff, shown below. A native of St Petersburg, his lifeline also passed through the streets of Tallinn at an early stage. Those movements along the Baltic shoreline, further from home, have only increased with time, prompted by dreams of somewhere else...
Cigarettes and a shot glass helped to foster a homeless, wandering romance.
Nowadays he performs under the stage-name of Amazing Electronic Talking Cave - a solo enterprise, inspired by US projects a la Brian Jonestown Massacre, or British spirits in the vein of Spaceman 3 and East Kilbride's Jesus & Mary Chain. At home, his professional experience has included work as session musician with Mumiy Troll. As these adventures gradually morphed into touring plans, he ventured further still from Slavic lands. "I started traveling with a friend: two guitars, a laptop, a camera, and a couple of t-shirts. No warm clothing. No money, either."
Two guitars, a laptop, a camera, and a couple of t-shirts. No warm clothing. No money, either
The experience away from Russia, although difficult, brought positive results: "I gave 100% to my work. There's a completely different energy in the West; a different worldview. There didn't seem to be a language barrier, even when I sang in Russian." His conclusion? "If you're going to play concerts, then it's better to do so over there," in Western realms.
In fact, some of Bondareff's interviews with the Russian press have painted an even darker picture of life at home. They sketch the kind of experiences we find in the music of 4 Pozicii Bruno - and help to explain why, for these artists, some kind of escape is necessary. "I had to change my life somehow. It was looking increasingly like a kind of trash-horror flick. And that's why I decided to join the army. At the Registration Office they took a look at me, had a good laugh, and sent me off to the Psych Ward. It's a great place, I must say! Over the two weeks I spent there, I had a wonderful opportunity to reassess my surroundings. I left that clinic a totally new person."
After an admission is made of limited - i.e., zero! - opportunity within a current situation, a sense of freedom nonetheless develops for the future. It's a paradoxical feeling of liberty, born of hopelessness: it's a potential to be exercised elsewhere. As a result, therefore, even though the tracks of AETC are tagged - by Bondareff himself - as shoegaze, there's little here to suggest a worldview of extreme introspection or social passivity. The contexts of his new album, "Radio Psylence," imply the unexpected birth of confidence and self-assertion - acquired through various forms of escape, be they literal or pharmaceutical.
Even the artwork, shown above, is a celebration of distant, hushed locations. The image chosen is imprecise, but two things are indisputable. The view is appealing - and it's nowhere near here. Should, therefore, a passport, visa, or train ticket be lacking, the best option is to tune out - in order to prejudice fantasy over fact. Which brings us in closing to a couple of new tracks from Curd Lake's Magic, of whom we wrote briefly a few weeks ago.
Mythical locations and endless, imagined identities
A resident of distant Krasnoyarsk, this solo musician prefers to remain anonymous - apart from his Christian name, Sasha. His earliest compositions, celebrating a spirit of endless flight (at least mentally), promised us songs in a "transparent falsetto. They're set the to the kind of broken rhythm that seems to be a complete innovation... We're sure that Sasha will morph into several other things very soon indeed." Mythical locations and endless, imagined identities predominated. Fantasy took the place of physical transport - and the most attractive direction was backwards.
Already one Russian fan has assessed the two new, blissed-out tracks from Curd Lake's Magic in positive and telling ways. "Wonderful stuff! I've been listening to these songs all month - and several times a day, too, whenever I'm traveling somewhere." Psychedelic drone, dedicated to issues of endless, happy change, becomes the soundtrack to physical motion - in other words, to a pleasing state of transience. It accompanies a sense of passage that occurs away from one location, yet remains far from any (final) point of arrival.
This is the soundtrack to a desired intermediary state - that of active non-participation. For that reason, it's very interesting to see that Curd Lake's fan likens his voice to "early [Viktor] Tsoi." Russia's greatest rock rebel is thus associated with drugged-out, escapist white noise. Not with social activism, but with the deliberate adoption of social indifference. It takes much effort.
If, therefore, one cannot leave home, the most subversive act of all appears to be doing nothing. In fact, a combination of civic non-involvement and staying home might be the most effective defense against the nastiness that 4 Pozicii Bruno see outside our doors.
A little liquid assistance also helps to blur the sharper edges of actuality - prior to a major thumping.