Simple Songs: Pavel Chekhov, Karamazov Twins, Muha, and Amor Entrave

Amor Entrave (Yekaterinburg)

The project known as Amor Entrave introduces itself with marked brevity: "We're a strange band from Yekaterinburg (but strange in a good way!)." Currently the representatives of that amiable oddness are four in number: Andrei Orenshtein (vocals), Ksenia Bakushina (saxophone), Sergei Mezhidov (bass), and Andrei Zrenii (guitar). Together these men and women invest their efforts in "a hard-to-describe mix of electronic and live performance" that occasionally includes collaboration with Yekaterinburg neighbors (such as Sansara and Nevidimki) and Moscow colleagues (like Zorge). "If you really want some generic tags," they say, "there's indietronica, indie-pop, idm, post-dubstep, D&B, or post-rock... but none of those really have anything to do with us." As we'll see, other emphases and values come to the fore - instead of complex categorization.

We're a strange band fromYekaterinburg (but strange in a good way!)

The band's name, we're told, refers to an aspect of courtly culture that - long ago - valued desire or yearning per se over its "resolution." Love, considered at a dignified distance, was a loftier matter than lust, taken to its messy or selfish end. Over and above such well-mannered and antique references, however, the musicians also admit that their moniker sounds a little like the phrase "love and rave," spoken aloud and in French. "Purely by chance, those happen to be our spiritual and musical reference points!" Somewhere within small songs lie some grand passions: they just stay hidden. 

A related (and unrealized!) yearning for distant places or bigger feelings certainly finds expression in the band's performance habits. Due, perhaps, to the reduced options within a poor economy, Amor Entrave frequently operate beyond the limits of canonical practice: "We can create exhibition soundtracks, remix the work of colleagues, or get involved in all kinds of collaborative endeavors." That wide-ranging diligence now finds expression in a maxi-single, "Bali" - dedicated to another distant, unobtainable object of desire.

Both constant employment and exotic islands are the subject of daydreams.

Amor Entrave: "Bali" (2012) 

The words to "Bali" juxtapose that faraway dream with mundane reality at home. Translated into English, some of the key phrasing might read: "Miles of movie footage, millions of books;/ A life made only of moments and decades./ The noise of old songs and many wise words;/ There are countless different dreams about you..." Cinematic or amorous literary fantasies, all spun from "countless different dreams," have taken the place of acts or meaningful decisions. This juxtaposition of daydreams and possible "doing" is what, perhaps, explains the similarity of Amor Entrave to Kaliningrad's Bigoudi. They both write deliberately, sometimes remarkably uncomplicated songs in order to highlight the gap between youthful reverie and adult melancholy.

Much is considered: little is done.

It seemed everything was possible...

That's even clearer in another Amor Entrave song of last year, "Mozhno Vse" (Everything's Possible).  The lyrics recall how "several years seemed an eternity in our youth." Adulthood and the passage of time, however, alter that point of view - and dramatically so. "It [once] seemed everything was possible, but/ Another autumn rolls around, and a coat collar's raised./ Nothing is right, nothing is right..."

Jollity pushes hard against any growing pessimism.

Amor Entrave: stubbornly playful

The same downscaling of scope - in the name of honesty, verisimilitude, and persuasion - is foregrounded in the work of Moscow's Muha. That stage-name, itself a rather unusual transliteration of the Russian word for "fly," refers to Anton Yakomul'skii and Aleksandra Chugunova. Since releasing a debut single in 2007, the duet has worked hard in the dual contexts of standard songwriting and cinematic soundtracks, not unlike Amor Entrave. Their newest effort, however, is much smaller in scale - and deliberately so.

Entitled - in translation - "Streetcar #6," the Muha release is offered in a multimedia format, akin to a digital comic-book, but the overall theme is simpler, being colored by everyday, mundane experience. The single's name, for example, refers to the tram or streetcar that Yakomul'skii would take as a child from his hometown on the edge of Moscow to the capital's outlying metro stations. The uncomplicated routines of youth have much appeal decades later.

Just a cello, some vocals, and a spring reverb unit

In a period of fiscal and "adult" challenges for musicians, smaller forms of expression can often seem more convincing. Pomp and circumstance imply a degree of confidence or self-determination that grown-up experience has proven to be delusional. A brief comment left by the band on one website also suggests as much: "This single is our first effort [in a new 'retro-style']. Nonetheless, it has turned out to be a pretty heartfelt affair! The main thing is we worked without compression or any other studio tricks. There's nothing more than a cello, some vocals, and a spring reverb unit."

Retrospection and resonant echo set the tone for misty-eyed considerations of fading simplicity. 

Muha (Moscow): Aleksandra Chugunova and Anton Yakomul'skii

Some outfits work consistently in this area of "retro-candor," such as the Karamazov Twins, whose catalog tends to celebrate the so-called "courtyard" aesthetic of Soviet songwriting. These were the private, amateur songs written and performed in the courtyards of old apartment buildings - probably with some beer bottles nearby. The bitter-sweet melancholy of urban life was captured on a cheap, acoustic guitar - by one person, singing to a handful of friends and neighbors. Little people gave quiet voice to big (and probably vanishing) dreams. 

A new form of sincerity, built upon the bones of postmodernism

The group's music was recently used for an old-school musical comedy ("Chapiteau Show") that was divided into four sections: Love, Friendship, Respect, and Cooperation. Substantial issues were played out through the brief lives of insignificant people. The Moscow press referred to these cinematic themes and their small-scale musical accompaniment as "a new form of sincerity, built upon the bones of postmodernism." The two tracks in our audio player come from the same film.

The Karamazov Twins' frontman - Zhak Polyakov - spoke to one Russian magazine about the raison d'être of his contribution to "Chapiteau Show." He said first of all that the overarching, uncomplicated air of these lyrical texts was informed by a line he'd once seen in an old American blues songbook: "I'm laughing because my tears have all finished."  

Karamazov Twins (Moscow and Maikop, southern Russia)

In particular Polyakov then explained his enduring fondness for the "abstract desires" he remembers from Russian pop music of the late 1980s. "I mean the kind of thing you'd hear coming from market stalls or railway stations. Songs broadcast from friends' radios or blasting from car windows." He then says that a line from a Boris Grebenshchikov song was also important, philosophically: "I'll always want something more." Put differently, these rather naive and backward-looking compositions cast a second, sad glance over a decade when the social fabric was seriously frayed. Amid those civic tensions, basic songs of distant yearning at least helped to instill hope.

Not realistic hope, but the consolation of minor fantasy - for those people who "always wanted something more."

Another interesting example, developing along the same lines, would be the career of Pavel Chekhov, sometimes known on stage as "Pasha" (and always known at home as Pavel Evlakhov). Born in a small Ukrainian town near Donetsk, he decided to try his hand at a show-business career... starting rather late at the age of 33. Slowly but surely, his reputation grew as a songwriter; he finally broke through with a major hit around the time when FFM came into being. For that reason, we sketched a few early notes regarding his most famous heroine, celebrated in song: "Lena Smirnova."

"Music and Us." Karamazov Twins: (Zhak Polyakov, right)

Smirnova was an imaginary figure, invented by Chekhov/Evlakhov to show how Russia's financial boom of the 2000s had changed both romantic and marital norms. A predatory instinct was uppermost - and love was taking a back seat to greed. Even now, one of the current Russian-language comments at YouTube reads: "I finally got to see this video. Up to now, I'd only heard the song. I recognized a few similarities with myself, actually. We 'Lena Smirnovas' are all alike...!"

That same avaricious culture would engulf popular songwriting for several years, and Chekhov would subsequently look back rather bitterly on the business parties and corporate functions that unfortunately became his main income. He even joked about his inability to escape the well-paid, but stultifying repetition of the same songs, over and over, usally performed to a drunk public. "'Lena Smirnova' is not the only song I've written, you know. There's another one: Masha Petrova."

Songs from a simple guy, with a basic education, from a provincial town

Chekhov, despite his extensive professional experience over the last ten years, tends to speak of himself as a "simple guy, with a basic education, from a provincial town." Urban glamor, however, has no time or patience for such typical folks. Only chutzpah sells well. For that reason, this performer has now returned to under-funded, yet happy liberty in his new album, titled with maximum simplicity as "Eleven Songs." It was debuted yesterday in Moscow. The Moscow public, just ahead of that event, was reminded of Chekhov's "intelligent, top-notch, and sincere" discography. The conscious rejection of gloss and glamor becomes synonymous with intelligence - no matter the self-deprecation in one's autobiographical notes.  

Songs of innocence and candor are better vehicles for uncomplicated, yet rare virtues - the ones shouted down by Moscow's shoptalk of the 2000s. Nobody expects - or wants - corrective tales of "love, friendship, respect, and cooperation" to be loud. A broad smile and empty pockets seem much better preparation for stories of charity - in several senses.

Pavel Chekhov (second left) and colleagues

Audio

Muha – Acoustic
Amor Entrave – Bali (Osen U Baalii Dub)
Amor Entrave – How Can I Tell Her (Acoustic Version)
Pavel Chekhov – Leto Eto (This Summer)
Pavel Chekhov – My Kak Maiaki (We're Like Lighthouses)
Muha – Streetcar No. 6 (Strings Version)

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