Another Mask (Moscow)
The very thespian stage-name Another Mask belongs to a Moscow ensemble, founded in 2006. Following early success in rock competitions around the capital, these performers were able to consider a follow-up to 2013's "Deposition"––at which point we discovered them. Entitled "Phases," it was actually a reconsideration of three tracks from an even earlier release, "Faces" (2009). Put simply, varitations were played upon a small number of themes, all in the name of growing perfection.
Interestingly enough, despite such lofty levels of professionalism, the members of Another Mask have declared on several occasions their collective desire to see whether "it's possible to conquer greed, egoism, crudity, and superstition. In order that wisdom, love, and peace all blossom." The band have even appended a few dictionary definitions to some publications, in order to underscore––in objective terms––their distaste for showy arrogance (or mere showmanship, even). All legal connotations aside, the noun "Deposition" was defined initially in 2013 as: "The act of deposing someone; removing a powerful person from a position or office." The removal of one, haughty presence would make way for other, more understated––and humble––alternatives.
Writing in English is both simpler and harder... (Another Mask)
The band's validation of teamwork and mutual support would suggest––again––that social existence is usually lacking such virtues. Reality leaves room for improvement.
When the band's last album came out, Another Mask's listeners were informed: "This record tells the story of an intelligent civilization that gradually becomes more aware––both of itself and its place in the universe. Each song represents a step towards perceiving the true nature of things. That [same growing awareness] increases the scale of the known universe, thus making an individual less and less significant [over time]." Wisdom transpires through social experience, rather than through self-important, atomized ways of being.
If society, however, offers a paltry realm for exercising such ideas, then friendship and nature are worthy substitutes. Amity works when actuality doesn't.
In publishing some of their lyrics online, Another Mask have in recent months attached each song to a sage saying from a well-known thinker. The chosen individuals have included people as diverse as Confucius and Carl Sagan, Darwin and Edwin Hubble, Ptolemy and Copernicus. One of the most telling came from Isaac Newton: "Men build too many walls and not enough bridges." In the newest material from Another Mask, there's a related and romantic consideration of those same bridges within long-standing friendships––together with the hope they might be extended to increasingly distant shores.
A micro-social ideal could, perhaps, have a macro-social resonance.
And now––on the heels of "Deposition"––we have in December "Reposition," a five-track mini-album at the end of 2015. The core ideas or concepts behind the recording are as well-established as Another Mask's penchant for wordplay. They tend to focus upon the issues––and failings––of language and/or location. The band clearly has a fondness for grand philosophical aphorisms, but that does not erase all differences between here and there, home and away. Meaning remains local or contextual. Take the choice of whether to sing in Russian or English? Does it even matter?
"English is the most commonly spoken language on Earth––so it allows more people to hear what we do. Writing in English is both simpler and harder... It's easier because the majority of words are shorter––and that makes it easier to marry the lyrics to a melody. Yet it's trickier, also, because it's not your native tongue––and you have to pay more attention to the grammar or the use of specific terms." The closer one is to home, the harder it becomes to speak in comforting abstractions. Another Mask member Maxim quickly adds that certain themes undoubtedly lend themselves to the Russian language. By implication, therefore, others do not; the simpler and/or sunnier ones...
The vocals are seemingly filtered down a telephone line. The result is a form of shamanic music (Rivoli)
Related elements and ideas emerge in the career of Rivoli from Samara, founded in 2009 "as a combination of alternative rock of shoegazing." Direct, yet distant influences include The Beatles, "the riffs" of Led Zeppelin and "the [deafening] sound" of My Bloody Valentine. When a resulting, Slavic sound is made from elements both local and faraway––as with Another Mask––then the following self-definition takes shape. It's actually a text used by Rivoli in multiple locations:
"[We hear] an overloaded bass sound and guitar chords powerful enough to fill any vacuum. Plus drums that are almost ritual––and vocals that're seemingly filtered down a telephone line. The result is a form of shamanic music. Even the musicians themselves recall shamans on stage. Lyrics either become furious incantations or lapse into looping, trance-like structures."
Folding these Siberian metaphors into an international context, the band members again admit their happy connection or debt to Western traditions of shoegaze, psychedelic rock, and UK guitar bands of the 1980s or '90s. In other words: "[We adore] the kind of music that's played loud––and in leather jackets, too. The sort of music that was once the best—and [in fact] will remain so in the future." Nothing, allegedly, will change––and that's cause for loud celebration in unsure contexts.
Intriguingly enough, Rivoli have sometimes appeared in their own(!) show called "Native Revival"––as sole participants. Everything has been designed to "(re)introduce audiences to the band's first album, which will soon come out." All kinds of contradictions emerge in that final, confusing phrase. A debut album becomes a form of repetition, before it has even begun. The only people involved in this looping activity are the original authors, caught in a process of hopeful self-improvement. Stage-craft becomes a form of self-help––as a present moment keeps "redoing" itself.
For that reason, there's a kind of knowing humor in the title of a 2011 single from Rivoli. Translated into English, it would, perhaps, read: "You'll Find Out Tonight." Put differently, the future would reveal something already known... Samara journalists, looking for the DNA of this witty fatalism, have tended to draw parallels with Joy Division, Interpol, and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. As with Another Mask, so here domestic truths are found in distant places. Outsiders know more about whatever's happening at home.
Before the beginning and after the end./ And all is always now (TS Eliot)
With regard to the brand-new, eponymous LP, Rivoli's frontman Nikolai Khanda starts an interview with yet another narrative loop. "We worked on this album for roughly three years. We decided that our first album should sound the way we'd always imagined it." Tomorrow, in other words, had to match yesterday's fantasies. "Almost the entire recording was done in an underground garage––beyond the city limits of Samara. In the early stages we didn't need, therefore, to get too hung up on reproducing any natural, 'garage' reverb... Next year we'll be performing live with new tracks and we're already full of hope [regarding how they'll turn out]."
There must––ideally––be no differences between what was and could be. T.S. Eliot surely comes to mind at this point: "The end precedes the beginning,/ And the end and the beginning were always there/ Before the beginning and after the end./ And all is always now." All Western––or simply commercial––notions of progress are overshadowed by a state of sonic being that simply is. It's a way of being that makes considerably more sense on Slavic streets.
There are additional, fitting parallels here with the new recordings from Nizhnii Novgorod math-rock trio Yawn Hic: Roman Sych (guitar), Aleksandr Ash (bass), and Ivan Vyp' (drums). This dizzying threesome often faces one particular––or predictable, even—question during regional interviews: "Are your instrumentals wholly improvised or first composed and then practiced? Are they expressions of narrative progression or some baroque event?" The musicians, in responding to that classic inquiry, always speak in terms of tricky construction. Expressing their modern, recent experiences is something that involves a representation of confusion––yet within recognizable genres.
The new, eponymous album from Rivoli––in antique formats
"There's undoubtedly a special 'mathematics' to what we do... The first thing in any compositional process is establishing the guitar or bass-line. Then, when we're actually rehearsing, we'll work out the drums, according to the alternation of rhythmic patterns. After that, we start swapping themes and discussing things in greater detail. [Using those steps,] that's how we manage to complete any given number."
This desire for twisting, turning, and yet orderly self-expression, however, does not extend to language. The band admit they've been unhappy with the inclusion of vocals. Something about the rule-bound nature of grammar or versification looks paltry in the face of shifting time signatures. For that reason, instead of bona fide texts, Yawn Hic turn to brief, sampled phrases. Language appears—and soon evanesces.
Syntax gets us nowhere.
Yawn Hic is a merging of imaginations, thoughts, and musical skills. Somehow it becomes something unified and whole
A fresh interview with the band this season consisted of sixteen questions, designed to clarify matters. We soon learn that a shared event on stage––partially improvised––takes the place of a canonically "eventual," unidirectional storyline. "Yawn Hic is like a single person with his [one] voice, multiple friends, numerous enemies, ideas, and philosophies. Each of us in the band has... his own varied life, too, even though we're very close friends... Whenever the time comes to rehearse, there are all kinds of discussions and compromises... In the end we'll reach a consensus, one that grants us all something extra. Yawn Hic is a merging of imaginations, thought processes, and musical skills, too. Soon everything becomes something both unified and whole... Just like a single person who's called Yawn Hic!"
In the same way, the band loves to cultivate vagaries. "Everybody imagines something different in our tracks. Each of us hears them in our own way, too. Everybody imagines whatever is dearest to them––or whatever they have on their mind. And that's the coolest thing of all in music; every single person finds something personal in it...Something wholly for themselves."
Sound belongs to one and all, with no singular or predatory membership taking precedence over time.
Of all these four bands today, the loudest voice of protest or mere contrariness is that of WLVS––again from Samara. One local fan online sets the scene very nicely: "There is real rock in Russia... There's a massive injustice in this country when you consider what [aging, irrelevant] bands do get considered as 'rock's representatives.' Take WLVS; surely they could fill entire stadia! Their music is so full of energy—and professionalism, too. It's a crying shame that so many rock groups in Russia get less recognition than they deserve."
WLVS define themselves with a single adjective: "loud." The line-up of WLVS is equally straightforward: Aleksandr, Kirill, and Maks. Surnames are irrelevant. There's no time for tedious details amid high tempos and ear-splitting volume levels. For all this zeal, however, disappointment––it seems––is something of a disconcerting norm: "We've some very bad news. Our tour was cancelled because our visas were denied. We tried three times to make things happen, but every time we failed. We did everything we could to make our dream come true. Nonetheless, everything fell apart for reasons beyond our control."
Everything fell apart for reasons beyond our control (WLVS)
A Russian text on another social network is even more expressive. "I don't even know where to start. Sometimes in life––no matter how much you work or invest [time and energy] in your dreams––life will turn its back on you. Everything goes out the window, for completely inexplicable reasons." After more expressions of upset and offense, a brief note of optimism from WLVS sounds at the close: "Everything will undoubtedly come true... just a little bit later. F**k the borders." After fleeting anger, optimism wins out.
The band's frontman recently spoke to the Russian press. An opening question concerned various stylistic pigeonholes; in simple terms, might an ensemble untroubled by life be limited by labels? The response from WLVS: "I'm already bugged by your questions! We play rock. It's something I can't even define very well myself. Let the listeners do that. Secondly, we really don't want to force our music into any kind of stylistic limits or hashtags. Maybe you could say it's 'nasty rock for kindly souls.' Songs about love that––in my view––are pretty honest, noisy, and even raucous."
Yawn Hic and one of the band's "eventful" garage gigs
Even the suggestion of a specific lyrical emphasis is irksome. "I don't want to say anything 'with' the music of WLVS! ... I didn't even upload any of our lyrics to VK until recently. I didn't want anybody to read them... I'm not inspired by any of the local bands in Samara, either. The scene here is pretty sad. Good bands do appear, of course—but then they break up [soon afterwards]. They may have potential—and good material—but people just fall [inevitably] by the wayside." Local spaces and levels of commitment both disappoint; distant locations are likewise unobtainable. And yet an optimistic assertion remains that something––surely––can be ameliorated closer to home: "I've no intention of leaving Samara and going somewhere else. I really do love my hometown. Sure, there are plenty of minuses..."
What's needed is a better philosophy, not a better address. And so we find that even among thunderous screamo outfits like WLVS, there's no overt or widespread attempt to change social classes, politicians, or places. The world will not be altered. What can be changed, however, are degrees of faith—or a hope against hope.
It'll be hot, sweaty, and impossible to breathe. And yet the whole experience will be cool––and good for your soul (WLVS)
A fresh WLVS interview following a tour of neighboring Europe expands this concept––together with thoughts on "the fact it's harder now to write in Russian. Even if we're happy with the result." Good cheer gets tougher––in several senses. This fable of stiff upper lips might make sense to bands anywhere, because: "Samara has the worst ***ing roads anywhere, not to mention the live venues... There's just nowhere to play... Garage gigs arose out of sheer dead-end necessity. You can squeeze 40-60 people into a place like that. It'll be hot, sweaty, and impossible to breathe. And yet the whole experience will be cool––and good for your soul." Whenever elitism is sacrificed to a collective state, then all is well.
Yet another 2015 interview with the Samara press lists those garages in great detail. Ultimately, we're told once more: "It's always cool in places like that. You feel yourself at home. Everything's warm, comfy––and everybody's happy. Both the audience and the performers."
So what lies next for a career that's supposedly free of unidirectional, linear drive? "We just hope that everything comes together well. We'll cross out fingers––and keep rehearsing."