Risky Challenges: DeafDeaf, Tally Ho, Riding the Diplodoc, Vespero, and Kusudama

Recently the Samara-based collective DeafDeaf placed their debut album online for free downloading. A brief, no-nonsense affair with a running time of only twenty-three minutes, the recording is branded for domestic listeners as "angry rock for kindly souls." Despite the liberal use of certain English obscenities in the songs, their presiding air is one of widespread enthusiasm - with a little self-irony. The CD's title, for example, lauds the hedonism of a mainstream rock aesthetic, whilst admitting that normal life allows little opportunity to "party hard "- or launch TVs from hotel windows.

The album is called "A Night To Remember... A Day To Forget." 

Angry rock for kindly souls

Working in a similar vein of late are Belgorod's Tally Ho!, whom we've spoken of before. They, too, have a new recording on display, with an equally ironic title: "Dirty, Dirty Songs." Just like their Samara colleagues, Tally Ho! downplay any danger of rockist pathos. The band's output embraces the rock canon in terms of sheer enthusiasm, rather than striving towards pomp.

By way of example, the artwork for "Dirty, Dirty Songs" shows a grubby orphan trying to live on a grand, adult scale. It would appear that his attempts have led to trouble; both the car and his ring are probably stolen. The lesson? Any premature or unjustified yearning to "live it large" will end badly.

The optimism and energy of these projects benefits little from faultfinding; there's nothing to be gained from maligning a good-natured jester. And so, given their trusting endorsement of the world, the members of Tally Ho! were upset recently when various anonymous and negative comments were left online.

For some unknown reason, several strangers posted their snide observations directly beneath a glowing review. The band summarized some of those faceless, curmudgeonly quips as follows: the good review, allegedly, had been paid for(!) and - in any case - the group can neither play nor sing. Further accusations held that the ensemble's English-language lyrics operate at a "pre-school level, while the musicians' faces are too melodramatic, the music's too modish... and everybody's clothes are too stylish."

Compare that diatribe with the following official promo-text, designed to accompany the songs. It's completely understandable why the members of Tally Ho! might feel betrayed by the public: "These songs are played as if they're the last thing we'll ever record! Before electricity vanishes forever, before recording studios all collapse, and a nuclear winter shrouds the Earth." This sunny register is an easy, though pointless target for sarcasm.

Heads hang low following the abuse.

The group's upbeat text continues, nonetheless: "Our songs are a kind of anthem. They're for all those musicians who are destined for anonymity... yet still keep going. And that's exactly what we hope you'll do, too." In a word, this was more rock music for kindly souls. Public malice was neither sought nor expected. 

As we see, the profoundly "democratic" workings of the web sometimes mean those individuals who stride across the ether, offering themselves for public assessment, will require a very tough skin indeed.

Our songs are a kind of anthem. They're for all those musicians who are destined for anonymity... yet still keep going

In this light, it's interesting to follow other peripheral figures of the rock community who remain equally convinced of their anonymity, yet use that outsider status to lessen social critique. They are, in other words, willfully complicated - and therefore unlikely to attract the attention of mainstream fans.

One of the best snapshots of this wanton complexity comes from a new compilation of Slavic math-rock. The recording and compositional quality across the CD isn't entirely uniform, but some of the thirteen contributors offer an intriguing insight into how the vox populi might he handled - in a sphere where anybody can say anything. We offer a quick look at three of them, over and above more familiar names such as A Rifle Surprise or Prea Hrada.

A good place to start is with Riding the Diplodoc from the southern town of Kurgan. Committed to instrumental forms of expression, the band's five members say they're "grounded in what might seem a melange of incompatible genres. Their music is balanced somewhere between the following: hysterical, atonal or mathematical constructions, dance rhythms, and mellifluous post-rock melodies." 

By claiming partial membership in several camps, escape is always possible into a neighboring style. Should the band be maligned for excessive commitment to one form of expression, they can dismiss it as nothing more than one facet of their creative potential. The goalposts can always be moved.

And, in the meanwhile, the inherent complexity of that ongoing "incompatibility" also lessens the likelihood of anonymous gripes from aesthetically challenged lovers of primetime. They probably wouldn't care to investigate math-rock in the first place.

Even further south, in the city of Astrakhan, are Vespero. Here, close to the Caspian Sea, four young men have been honing their craft since 2003 in ways that "aren't easy to pigeonhole." Recent recordings have been attributed to the influence of "space rock, Krautrock, neo-psychedelia, and art-rock elements, too."

That dizzying array is made even less predictable with the artists' additional commitment to some vague "vision of their own." 

Space rock, Krautrock, neo-psychedelia, and art-rock elements, too

Frequent collaborations with other performers help to guarantee a thoughtful, intricate process: "Full of synthesizers and strings, the band's music successfully combines all those styes with a mysterious, slightly ominous atmosphere. Yet another sphere[!] acknowledged by Vespero is world music; elements of a Near Eastern heritage are relatively prominent, though we're definitely dealing with rock music." 

These options, alternatives, and avenues become so numerous that generically recognizable statements are superseded by some ineffable process. Activity becomes more important than any fixed, constant assertion. Movement is all.

The band happily refers to its catalog as "challenging." In other words, once a composition has begun, there's no guarantee that the limitations of a(n initial) genre will be respected. In fact, they probably won't! As folks say about British weather: if you don't like it, just wait five minutes...

This use of deviation to counter a generically predictable mainstream (and its fans) is, perhaps, best formulated by another contributor to the math-rock sampler, namely Kusudama from Belarus. These Minsk musicians refer to themselves as a "dissident collective, committed to the betrayal of music itself."

Mocking any politicized view of "dissident" activity in their home nation, the members of Kusudama claim (tongue in cheek) to manipulate the sound frequency of their songs, such that psychological changes occur in the local populace. "It all leads to a loss of public will - and an inability to concentrate or even speak coherently."

It's all seasoned with humor and some healthy, even psychedelic schizophrenia

Tedious coherence is jettisoned by endlessly "mixing jazz with math-rock. It's then seasoned with humor and some healthy, even psychedelic schizophrenia, too." Listeners are promised constant alteration, to the point where the songs' own authors have no idea what to expect...

Kusudama directly invoke a sickly state whereby one loses all responsibility for statements made. At which point, perhaps, the criticism of others' becomes an impossibility. Neverending change might win the day.

Keeping mainstream mediocrity at bay is evidently a tiring business.


Kusudama – 5-6-5-7
Vespero – Frozen Lilies
DeafDeaf – Love Machine
Tally Ho! – While the Producer...

Related Artists