Sergey Lunev is a multi-instrumentalist living in the Ukrainian port of Odessa. When armed with a guitar and large amplifiers, he morphs into The Best Pessimist - a stage name he has been using since the start of 2009. Concerted effort over the last couple of years has led to four albums, published through a series of netlabels. Keen to place those long, atmospheric instrumentals into some kind of meaningful system, he initially plumps for the boxes labelled as post-rock, ambient, and "some electronic influences."
Should such terms be insufficient, Mr. Lunev also casts a net over foreign waters and suggests that his work may remind some listeners of The American Dollar, God Is An Astronaut, French Teen Idol, and The Calm Blue Sea.
Moving tentatively around the specificity - and limitations - of language, Lunev has declared online that his favorite lyrics come from a Moving Mountains track ("Sol Solis"). The chosen lines both project subjectivity into a grand elemental sphere and then use that same scale for the backdrop to some imagery of tragic loss. Grandeur allows for a grand exit:
I’ll freeze. I’ll die for you
"I know you/ You’re like the sun/ And I am earth./ Together we’re one/ And someday/ Your fire will die./ I’ll grow cold without sunlight/ And I will freeze;/ I will die,/ I’ll freeze. I’ll die for you."
In short, the dimensions of these sweeping soundscapes make no arrogant claim to pomp or preeminence. Quite the opposite - they speak of a potential that will never be realized, due to the endless machinations of some ineffable, external pressures. For this reason, Lunev's dalliance with lyrics - in fact with language as a whole - stops here. The collective title of our chosen tracks does an equally good job of pitting some lonely, silent souls against unfair odds.
The moniker of The Best Pessimist implies some "skill" in this descent - concerning the degree to which lofty commitments and ideals might be validated by loss. In other words, "pessimism" may indicate doubt in civic progress and/or the validity of social cheer, yet Lunev's quoted lyrics show that some chivalrous ideals do still persist. Hope may have dwindled, therefore, but wordless desire endures much longer. Consequently, fidelity may even need anxiety, if not desperation, to show its worth.
Reversing these metaphors of downward movement, yet sympathetic to their goal, we have some equally new recordings from the Moscow post-rock ensemble, Cosmonauts Day. Here the preferred tags multiply: experimental/ atmospheric/ post-metal/ sludge/ ambient/ shoegaze/ post-rock/ post-hardcore. The members list themselves with equally brief phrasing: Nikita (drums), Krasen (bass), Chekan, and Dima (both guitars). Again vocals are absent.
Instead we find some quotes from Erich Fromm, attributing friendship, antagonism, and the yearning either for power or submission to "various conditions of life." Then, in narrower and more ominous terms, Fromm's words are used to ascribe all these positive and negative qualities to economic factors. The fickle workings of commerce have allegedly engendered an unfocused, if not groundless existence.
Pessimism is thus born of material experience; difficult conditions smother various ideals and, according to a perverse logic, they then elevate those same values to an even loftier plane. Love aside, though, what might these abstract victims of filthy lucre be? Implicit in the Fromm quote are some of the intangible, "basic human needs" that were tabulated and celebrated by the man himself. These included transcendence (experience beyond the here and now), together with an emotional or spiritual rootedness (a "sense of belonging"). Material, mercantile culture leaves both of those ideals in a rather sorry state.
If external, often heartless materialism leaves any hope for emotional or spiritual rootedness both bruised and battered, one might expect certain forms of social expression to reflect them. Texts might be expected to mirror their context. If so, then rootlessness will emit a certain wayward sound.
Take, by way of example, AWOTT, another Moscow outfit with new and fittingly formless tracks on display. The last time we investigated their catalog, the band's instrumentals - stripped of any post-rock romance - were dedicated to the ways in which today's social limits produce unnatural forms. Actuality works against Mother Nature - and she struggles to respond.
This is excellent music for holy fools
As one Russian visitor to an AWOTT download location recently remarked: "This is excellent music for holy fools" - i.e., located half-way between inspiration and idiocy. Barely audible lyrics, often grounded in childhood repetition or looped, traumatic phrasing, are buried deep within improvised performance.
This is what the Moscow press has called "a bestial striving... an expression of collective arbitrariness that resonates with the best traditions of Krautrock, noise-driven music, and - excuse us! - folk music, too." In a word, we're dealing with complete and utter spontaneity. Listeners may not always be presented with what they want, since the musicians - even during the recording process - are not entirely sure of what they'll produce.
A bestial striving... an expression of collective arbitrariness
AWOTT themselves speak of their sounds as the product of a distant age (be it real or imagined!) when music played a more "natural," even elemental role within our expressive abilities: "We all preserve, somewhere in our memories, the imprint of ancient, heady times when each human note and rhythm was perceived as an event. Each note was a kind of protest, perhaps as the shifting of some special wind. This was a time when people stood tall and the map of human ideas included a lot of virgin territory."
Profitable pragmatism has long since mapped out the social landscape, though, leaving irrationality and "holy foolishness" as the tools of expressive liberty. A sketch below shows that AWOTT usually opt for sartorial surrealism, also.
The band claims to record in the nude - "in order that we hide nothing from one another. We're a single being, an indivisible atom. There's a love and respect between us that will last until the end of time: it will outlive war, hunger, and any disaster. For us, a successful rehearsal is like a pregnancy... We pull a screaming, ruddy, and slippery infant from the womb of our portastudio. We've got lots of children... they just haven't grown up yet."
For us, a successful rehearsal is like a pregnancy...
AWOTT thus embody another attempt to return to experiential plentitude before the constraints of cash and/or speech.
The most dramatic of these efforts comes from the most disorderly of our four ensembles. In Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, we find new and irregular noises from a duo known by the Biblical phrase "All Flesh Is Grass." Taken from Isaiah 40:6, that stark expression of human transience has been famously employed over the decades within German classical music, English poetry, American novels, and Norwegian dark metal. The promise of experiential options beyond anything fleshy comes with weighty evidence. Team Transience has an impressive lineup.
The membership of All Flesh Is Grass remains minimal: Dima Arktor and Sasha Khirurg. Their borderline formlessness is explained in the same vein as Fromm's social pessimism. External realia determine human behavior; if ideals are to be defended, the response to chaotic reality needs to be similarly fast and frenized.
And so: "Sasha throws [haphazard] rocks in the direction of society's consumerism. In doing so, he draws upon a full arsenal of expressive options: biting turns of phrase, memorable situations from his past, and various notes scribbled on cigarette packs. Together they form a kind of humanistic outlook - one driven by an undying need to relate the bitter truths of existence." Once more, the "best pessimist" becomes the loudest champion of a waning idealism.
We decode human voices lost beneath the clamor of car horns
The duo then adds: "You could say that we decode human voices lost beneath the clamor of car horns - and give them a new form." Fromm's slim hopes for both "transcendence" and "rootedness" are thus brought into play once more. Human expression, saved from an anonymous, deafening flow and given new "roots," nonetheless sounds very distressed.
It does not seem accidental that the "pre-urban," wantonly immaterial values celebrated by All Flesh Is Grass take the animal forms that we see here. Keen to salvage a kinder, more considerate worldview, Arktor and Khirurg imagine their creative work as animals on the run. Destined to adorn the walls of a kitsch, yet expensive boutique one day, both ostriches and deer respond to an impending physical threat.
They move - unpredictably and silently.