A few months ago, we announced the appearance of young singer Tanya Shcherbina, who operates under the stage-name of Ms. Sounday. Her brief career - so far - had been grounded in jazz, but those foundations are now nudged towards R&B or hip-hop for a debut album, "My Little Joys." It combines tracks both in Russian and English; it seems that Shcherbina took on responsibility for the former, while her sister Anna contributed a handful of texts in English. Together, these two languages and authors dovetail in the name of escapism and eleven celebrations of individuality:
Anna Shcherbina says: "The music was used to create both a general mood and overarching theme for the lyrics. In 'Happiness Won't Wait,' for example, we're trying to say how wonderful it is to let your imagination run free. To simply dream outside the limits of habit. When strangers come together, they might catch each other's eye, smile at one another, and - soon enough - they're building something. In the same way, we try and combine our own 'melodies' as a single, beautiful form of music."
Related metaphors, walking a thin line between enthusiasm and primetime rhetoric, inform much of the new album. And yet, for all these dalliances with the mainstream, much of the CD is given over to the importance of privacy. It's directed towards a wide audience, but lauds the small spaces of private life.
To simply dream outside the limits of habit...
By way of example, we might recall that during our earlier, initial look at Shcherbina's catalog, there was much on display to emphasize individual, rather than "collective" experience - far from the madding crowd. In Ms. Sounday's track "A Flutter of Eyelashes" (Shelestom Resnits) we were told how the briefest of noiseless bonds - i.e., a fantasy imagined as fact - is markedly superior to the presumed wisdom of "hundreds of [verbose] pages." Silence trumps speech. Privacy and peace both outdo urban gloss and glamor; hushed sounds are the most emotionally potent - yet they're often drowned out by social hubbub. Celebrating those values within a polished, "urban" format is tricky.
Another of the earlier tracks we investigated - "Between Dreams" (Mezhdu Snov) - contains the chorus: "Exhale, inhale./ Between dreams and the windows of autumn/ We couldn't speak/ Those vital words." The tiny, "whispered" social challenges of life remain the same, especially in places that have scant respect for solitude. The most powerful songs - claim these sisters - are muted (in delivery) and fundamentally conservative (in form), because that's how they speak of endurance in a chronically unpredictable and intrusive world.
The line between truth and trivial phrasing is therefore often invisible; the former is always valid, whereas the latter always wants to be. Truths have no need of innovation. In the same way, love songs and familiar formats keep coming back because they're wanted and needed. They're in demand, in terms of both private yearning and profit.
That's why the PR material for "My Little Joys" tells us "this album was born of ideas, creative experiments, sleepless nights, hopes, and fears." Canonical hip-hop or its familiar language, amid those worries, is here for a reason: it satisfies with its recognizable, reliable formats and narrative resolutions. The canon speaks of predictable and therefore maximally consoling conclusions. Away from noise and nastiness.
Funk, acid, jazz, soul... and, quite simply, a great mood!
The overtly "sunny" imagery used so often by Ms. Sounday is even more evident in the catalog of St. Petersburg jazz ensemble Elefunt's Groove, who often like to write the third syllable of their stage-name in bold, capital letters. Optimism is shouting loud and clear. In a similar vein, the band members like to advertise their selling points of "funk, acid, jazz, soul... and, quite simply, a great mood!" In most cases, that final adjective is also written in capitals, together with a handful of exclamation marks. Whence that jollity? We're told that it comes from thoughts of somewhere far away; a good mood is guaranteed by escape.
Grab your sunglasses and head south.
"We offer the sunshine of distant, southern lands - filtered through a Petersburg romanticism... We'll help you believe in your dreams. We play bright, positive melodies, interwoven with enchanting harmonies..." In fact, when asked to document their history, the musicians still prefer fantasy to reality. Absent dreams are more appealing. This is how they explain and enliven the story of the band's origin: "Once upon a time, on the first day of autumn, two dreamers came together. They met on a day when the sun was still gracing the Earth with its warm rays. The first dreamer spoke in melodies; the second created rhythmic vibrations. Maybe this was a chance meeting... but, on the other hand, maybe not! Whatever the case, their rendezvous was the first of many. They became musicians."
We offer the sunshine of distant, southern lands - filtered through a Petersburg romanticism…
The wistfulness continues: "More time went by, and on the road of their adventures, our duo came across a third figure. He was another dreamer, somebody who felt the beating of hearts. And, just like everything that has a heart, this threesome soon became the start of an organism that lives to this day. It carries kindness and light." The need to even create those closing two virtues is, logically, because they're lacking in the status quo. In the band's own phrasing, they exist as an alternative to "daily hassles. City dwellers never stop running to and fro; everything is tied up with the stress and noise of the Big City. Springtime never seems to arrive - and we never get enough warmth or heartfelt feeling. We always want more of the sun's warming, gentle embrace."
Which isn't here.
A similar appeal of flight (in various senses) transpires in the materials surrounding Moscow beatmaker Cola Koala. The backstory here is brief and imprecise from the outset. A couple of months ago, a willfully anonymous project appeared online with the name of ARCHNGL. As we reported, its three faceless members claimed to be originally from the northern city of Syktyvkar, synonymous in the Russian mind with reindeer, endless snow, and very few people. And then, although Cola Koala was playing a similar game in distant Moscow, refusing to offer names or addresses, it became possible to draw a vague connection between Cola Koala and ARCHNGL - by way of a certain Mr. Anton Kolesnikov.
Since we found Cola Koala, those conjectured links have been proven true. Mr. Kolesnikov just gave an interview to the Moscow press and expanded the general context. He continues to produce his own music - a very different kind of hip-hop! - as a way to escape clamorous actuality; he recently left Moscow for the quieter, more isolated Far North again. "If you're doing what you love, then it's irrelevant where you live. I lived for a long time in Moscow and wrote ambient music. At the time I was inspired by Brian Eno and Akira Yamaoka. Then I came back home to Syktyvkar and understood that my experiences had been preparation for something bigger. I wanted to write songs. In fact I was prompted to do so by Ray Bradbury's novel  novel, 'Dandelion Wine.' I wanted my future work to be like Bradbury's summer, too - captured and labeled in a bottle."
I wanted my work to be like Ray Bradbury's 'dandelion' summer - captured and labeled in a bottle
Absent joys, far beyond the city limits, need to be preserved. Kolesnikov's desire to keep escapism - and therefore solitude - alive was noted in a recent Moscow publication online. LookаtMe asked a handful of Western musicians to comment upon new Russian material, and a Cola Koala track was presented to San Francisco's Mikey Maramag, better known as Blackbird Blackbird. Translated back from the Russian, his thoughts read: "I liked Cola Koala's unusual, even unique sound. It's a nice combination of trip-hop and psychedelia." The wish for a swift exit endures, fueled by some special substances.
A kindred spirit might be Samara resident Anton Kovrov, who performs under the complex stage-name of Floans Bitflip. Here the slick, often self-assured traditions of hip-hop are seriously manipulated - all in the name of a striving spirit, heading over the horizon. As he jokes on one site, Kovrov was - officially - born in Kuibyshev, which is the old Soviet name for Samara (chosen in honor of a grey Soviet functionary). Our artist's hometown is therefore officially absent - and he hasn't even gone anywhere. Physical space is swiftly questioned.
On that same page or social network, he declares his 'religious views" to be "conscience" alone. A social virtue is underscored within tangible experience, together with a very long list of foreign musical influences. Kovrov's recordings certainly deserve a wider audience, but what kind of worldview might work best, given the overarching penchant we see here for hip-hop as an escapist vehicle? What might a dreamer do in the real world, if an exit strategy is unlikely (to a "distant, southern land")?
He who deceives will be deceived; your actions will not vanish
Yesterday Kovrov posted some wise words from a site dedicated to Russian "business strategies." It promises Russian-language "quotes that have influenced millions of people. They're applicable to business, economics, finance, and success." In translation, the sage saying chosen by Floans Bitflip assures us of some social karma, in other words it implies that both goodness and malice will be returned in kind. "He who deceives will be deceived; your actions will not vanish. The future's boomerang will hit you hard, and give back all you've done." If, therefore, dreamers cannot flee their earthbound, northern existence, they should at least behave nicely(!). And that suitably sentimental, if not naive conclusion gives us yet another reason to celebrate the uncomplicated joys and kitschy PR of Ms. Sounday.
Simplicity and sentiment means a great deal in places where they're lacking.