The Beauty of Loss: MMPSUF, That Sky, Igen Beatz, and Navel Felt

Eglė Sirvydytė, vocalist with mmpsuf (Vilnius, Lithuania)

The six letters "mmpsuf," written in lower case, refer to a couple of Lithuanian musicians: Eglė Sirvydytė (voice, keyboards) and Aivaras Ruzgas (programming). Describing their output in typically abstract and romantic terms, they speak of "layered vocals, electronic off-beats, and steady rhythms... all of which, strangely enough, make sense [when interwoven]. The beauty behind the music comes from these songs' overarching imagery, [their imagined] spaces, and the stories that emerge. It's all so simple, yet so real, too."

So what are the core narratives that inform - and adorn - the music of mmpsuf? A debut album, released in 2011, was called "Expeditors." It was touchingly dedicated to those people - or animals, even - who've been sent off on great "missions" and expeditions of the past. Not so much in terms of intrepid adventure, though... Sirvydytė and Ruzgas are more interested in those poor souls who have been dispatched to distant, risky locations against their will. These heartbreaking loners, be they press-ganged sailors or star-bound mongrels, are bound by a lack of free will, an oft-forgotten "quest," and - in some cases - complete "oblivion." 

Precisely because of that loss, mmpsuf, see a "sad beauty" in tragic tales.

The mind is always waiting. It's there that beauty is keenly assembled

Rather than try and assail nature (on ships, rockets, or distant roads), the more recent characters of these Lithuanian songs instead aim to dissolve within it. In other words, the newest mmpsuf recordings - called "Retina" - work on the premise that: "Music is visible. It manifests itself to those who watch [its workings] by tapping upon a viewer's photosensitive cells. Those cells then open up and escort their 'guest' upstairs... where the mind is always waiting. It's there that beauty is keenly assembled." Consciousness admits - and therefore submits to - the majesty of nature, which is something to be appreciated, rather than "conquered."

Eglė Sirvydytė and Aivaras Ruzgas: mmpsuf

The theme of beauty returns, therefore, in "Retina" - but as a qualitatively different kind of loss. The heroes of these newer songs acquiesce not to the stark, thunderous drama of some faraway storm, but instead to the rarely appreciated plenitude of a nearby splendor. For that reason, Sirvydytė and Ruzgas have been working of late with Vilnius video artists; they aim to increase the "spectacular" aspect of their catalog, in a literal sense. By showing the dizzying scale of nature's fairness - to which music aspires - mmpsuf hope to foster a sense of humility. Modesty, put differently, is the point at which arrogance gives up - or loses. 

The philosophical pull of some natural expanse (or an "oblivious" plenitude) is also felt in the work of Belarusian beatmaker and graphic designer That Sky (Alexander Goluziy). He, too, has new material on display, specifically as an album entitled "Shelter." Filling his web venues with imposing images of dark, northern skies (suitably enough), he is happy to include the kind of baroque phrasing we find with mmpsuf. "Goluziy's music is always weightless - yet somehow all-consuming, too." The rhetoric of nothing and everything falls together. 

His music is always weightless - yet all-consuming, also

Now with three years' work as a composer behind him, Goluziy likes to showcase his recent output as "a melange of ambient with broken idm - and some spirited glitch-hop." Listeners on one social network have responded to these compositions in surprisingly sentimental terms: "What a great album! I keep listening to it, over and over. It really relaxes me..." The same verb appears in other comments: "The material's both catchy and relaxes you, too. It allows you to think things over. You'll not hear stuff like this anywhere else."

Something about emptiness cultivates a sense of tranquility.

That Sky (Alexander Goluziy, Vitebsk)

The dark and sometimes lowering symbolism of this material leads, oddly, to a sensation of peace and calm. It's as if the idea of surrender holds more appeal than that of struggle. These motifs of "productive" loss certainly inform the work of Ukraine's Igen Beatz, who is a young producer from Kiev. He has a new mini-album available for free download, "It's Cold Outside." Its ten tracks are contextualized by thoughts both positive and negative.

On one web venue, this musician (Ivan Semenchuk) declares that his favorite quotes can be taken from any film early in the Star Wars franchise. On top of that primetime fairytale, he choses as his motto five simple words in English: "Live, learn, love, [and] have heart." Forgiveness and a sense of well-intentioned adventure predominate (not to mention a princess and happy ending). 

Live, learn, love, [and] have heart

Slowly, though, a slightly darker viewpoint transpires. A long Russian quote, also to be filed under "pearls of wisdom," can be translated as follows: "We all have to wait a long time for love. Generally speaking, that neither bothers nor worries me." He then appends a very different turn of phrase, suggesting there are more pressing matters than romance on his mind: "If only I could afford those decent sneakers over there..."

And, at the top of his Vkontakte page, crowning it all, we discover: "I don't know how I'm a manage,/
If one day you just up and leave..." What sounds like a touching line of commitment actually comes from Kanye West's vitriolic hit of 2010, "Runaway." Based on themes of romantic failure, the song is full of anger directed against an uncaring world. In fact, at the end of the same year, when assessing the "Best Singles of 2010," Rolling Stone magazine wrote: "It takes a special kind of dark, twisted genius to raise the white flag of surrender while raising a middle finger."

Surrender and failure do not offer a romantic "beauty" to everybody; not all is fair in love and war.  

Igen Beatz (Kiev): "It's Cold Outside" (2012)

Perhaps these attitudes towards loss can be well synthesized by a May 2012 publication from the Dopefish community in Omsk. Famous for their epically lo-fi recordings, full of stumbling, failed machinery, Dopefish now announce three fresh tracks by the unappealingly named Navel Felt. That dubious moniker hides the identity of St. Petersburg's Alexander Modul, who appears here with a range of downtempo, tremulous examples of tape music. The sounds of age and material tension are both evident in the media used to transmit them; there's tape wobble aplenty. Mechanical breakdown is surely about to occur.

These noises of old, ailing VHS or cassette tapes - of irreversibly handicapped tools - are used to counteract the falsehood of modern, confidently pragmatic "heroism." The flattering narratives of struggle, adversity, and loud triumph that fill primetime TV schedules are dismissed in favor of sad deceleration - which seems infinitely more honest. Loss is more likely than gain.

Dopefish: a youthful, creative community made of several Siberian fellows

As an example of this saddening honesty, one Dopefish concert in St. Petersburg has recently advertised itself as an alternative to cocky Mafia nonsense on TV. Surely, goes the argument, there's more forthright and beneficial fun to be had in concert halls, while television offers gross tales of physical excess - not to mention arrogant self-assurance: "Only a person who has no heart can watch that stuff..." Offering both (sobering) candor and "heartfelt" tales of empathy for browbeaten townspeople, Dopefish Family define themselves online with admirable brevity as a "youthful, creative community made of several fellows."

Smallness and self-deprecation make a healthier social outlook than chutzpah.

Alexander Modul (St. Petersburg', aka Navel Felt

All solo musicians in their own right, the members of Dopefish Family oversee a common website and netlabel; Navel Felt is their newest comrade. What fuels this friendly artistic activity? "We are interested in music and brown bread."

The dry humor behind that quip is felt elsewhere. If there is a trademark Dopefish sound, it would indeed be the tinny-sounding or glo-fi instrumentals we hear from Modul, full of melancholic romance. It casts a slightly sentimental eye back to the times and technology of the recent past. Objects of childhood joy are celebrated and mourned simultaneously, because they're fading fast. This leads to the blurred, frequently decelerated sounds that have been classified on Soundcloud as "very catchy... and psychedelic, too! Trippy as hell!"

We are interested in music and brown bread

The music we hear from Omsk is typically - if not tragically - slow, in that we discover famous motifs from half-forgotten pop classics captured on cheap C60s. Objects of affection are just about to vanish forever. Love, it seems, is subject to demise - as the picture below suggests, just posted by Igen Beatz in Kiev. In a world where friends and lovers are felt to be fickle (thanks, in part, to Kanye West's skepticism), an alternative and consoling outlook is needed, something that guards against demise and/or disaster. 

mmpsuf find beauty in tragic failure - and the new recordings from That Sky or Navel Felt both amplify that same sense of dignity in decline. Can success really be found in collapse, though? Judging by these Slavic and Baltic releases, the very fact that an individual has values beside materialism or physical wellbeing places those same values above physicality's fate. A cause that's championed despite - or thanks to! - material failure quickly proves itself to be priceless. It even requires failure and fiasco in order to show its full worth.

"I've No Friends": some Kievan graffiti captured by Igen Beatz

Audio

That Sky – Distance to Planets
mmpsuf – God's Retina
Igen Beatz – I Am Not In Love
mmpsuf – The Sailors

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