Drag and Dreams: Pixelord, K1llRGVP, Timely Aiah, and Summer of Haze

Pixelord (Moscow): "Keramika" (2012)

A long-standing fixture on this site, Alexey Devyanin is now able to announce another release, this time through the Brighton-based UK label Hit and Hope. Performing under his stage-name of Pixelord, Devyanin is enthusiastically announced by his south-coast publishers: "Pixelord is already a veteran of electronic music. This Moscow producer has gained international recognition for his sound, which is the perfect cocktail of synth-driven alternative bleeps and bass-heavy beats. With previous releases on Error Broadcast [Berlin/Modena] and Leisure System [also Berlin], Pixelord now turns to Hit and Hope for his next effort – 'Keramika.'"

Released a couple of days ago, "Keramika" will be supported by live shows in both the UK and Germany. Words of praise are already audible, for example from England's Kidkanevil: “Incredible release!! Gotta be Pixelord's finest work to date. 'Keramika' is ridiculous. Really, really f***in' dope.” Publications far from Brighton have likewise celebrated the recording's "Twinkling biomechanic melodies with insectoid rhythms... The staggered scales and [moments of] boozed-up swagger provide the biggest highlight."

Twinkling biomechanic melodies with insectoid rhythms...

That final reference to booze is important. One of the EP's compositions, "Drinky," is based around the slurred, even sloppy rhythms suggestive of excessive drinking - together with the voice of a disapproving partner intoning in the background. Pixelord's trademark chiptunes (the sounds of a trouble-free childhood) become the blurred, often sickly noises of adult excess. Youthful fantasy has morphed into the garbled patterns of nervous adult speech. Hope runs up against increasing obstacles over time - especially when we hear what appears to be a sampled child's voice calling to its father.

Ideals suffer at the hands of ailing matter.

Pixelord (Alexey Devyanin)

In fact, in a recent and revealing video interview given by Pixelord and Acid Mafia (Hyperboloid) to Musicserf, Devyanin spoke in resigned terms of music's current battles with piracy. Much as he'd rather not see publication tied to concerns of filthy lucre - or their flip side, tightfisted piracy - he understands that little can be done to keep melodies safe from ugly materialism. Both music labels and P2P pirates behave according to a fiscal logic. The romance of music-making therefore - little by little - admits its devaluation in the (grasping) hands of others. And yet, amid those dilemmas of bootlegging and piracy, which issue or consequence is the most enduring: the loss of an artist's profit or - paradoxically - the freedom of his sound from a profit motive? Perhaps poverty brings a bittersweet liberty in tow, made both from creative freedoms and empty pockets. 

The discrepancies between chiptune fantasy and insistent drinking audible on "Keramika" pose some bigger problems, therefore. The same tricky issues are also highlighted in three new tracks that have come to us from St. Petersburg's Timely Aiah (Aleksey Medvedev). The last time we encountered his work, he was collaborating with a netlabel from Arizona. That considerable distance in terms of physical geography was echoed and amplified in a simultaneous theme of other material challenges. In fact those earlier tracks were titled en masse as "Jesus Against Vice and Disease"; one of the compositions therein was called "Parkinson's Disease at Twenty-One Years." 

Spiritual yearning produced the very distorted, even desperate sounds of massive effort - only to be struck down by the whim of fate and a merciless physical ailment. Gaudy colors continue speaking to that concerted, even counterproductive zeal. Desire endures even after hope dwindles.

A rare, lurid image of Timely Aiah (Aleksey Medvedev, St. Petersburg)

Now we have, foregrounded in Medvedev's three new tracks, a related issue of aging, fading romance, and physical burden: "Grandpa's Garage," "Toothless Russian Boy," and "Unbearable Girl." Within the same instrumentals, the most specific reference to physical pressures (or release from them!) is a long and looped sample from The Notorious B.I.G.'s track "Party and Bullsh*t" (1993). That heady call to hedonism - come what may - was criticized in the early 1990s by folks such as The Last Poets, who felt the track had abandoned all semblance of civic commitment. Black social issues, and the songwriting traditions thereof, had been swapped for mere selfishness. Real-world burdens and hassles had inspired a dramatic rush towards pleasure. Morality took a beating in the process.

Till the sun come up, till we all f***ed up, till the Champagne gone...

These same burdens - of bodily effort and/or collapse - weigh even heavier in new tracks from Summer of Haze, a project named after a US porn actress born in the early '70s. Desire and debauchery are, from the outset, standing face to face. Happiness has a difficult time freeing itself from decadence and demise. After all, the actress in question scribes a similarly sad trajectory with her career, having long since become a professional wrestler... 

In flight from dead weight - and related mental or emotional states - the imagery surrounding Summer of Haze continues to focus heavily on marijuana. Imagination is working very hard indeed to find something or somewhere better. Occasionally some help is needed.

Summer of Haze (St. Petersburg/Tambov): "Come With Me, Hail Mary" (2012)

An article published this week at Moscow's webzine LookatMe proves useful here, following the release of new SofH material on ODDOT: "Come With Me, Hail Mary." Building upon the traditions of Russian witch-house, this debut album is spun from what LookatMe calls "dope beats and low, smooth basslines. They run against the grain of some ripped-up melodies and ghostly vocal samples, altered beyond all recognition." Direct lyrical or self-expression comes only from very (very!) far away.

The staff at ODDOT credit these sounds of vanishing selfhood to an "unknown hypnagogic pop king... The music is mystical and sexual at the same time." An inability to isolate spiritual from fleshy experience is handed over to hypnagogic soundscapes, floating between sleep and waking. A state of limbo ensues. Thus far all these recordings from PixelordTimely Aiah, and Summer of Haze illustrate a clear - and troubling - bond between the dead weight of materiality and whatever (happier) experiences hope to escape it. Perhaps.

The sounds of an unknown hypnagogic pop king

This leaning towards darkness - and honesty - is also important for a brand new offering from the tellingly named Killorgiveup. Previous work from the outfit had involved Estonia's Spice Mouse (Laura Vunk) and Felix Bondareff (who performs as Amazing Electronic Talking Cave). Vunk has now been replaced for live shows by Ivan Starzev from Mars Needs Lovers (themselves based in the city Perm).

Killorgiveup (Tapa, Estonia): "Pink Light EP" (2012)

The last Killorgiveup recording had been dedicated to Amy Winehouse, whose own physical collapse occurred with tragic - yet inevitable - speed. Now, as a development of those gothic overtones, Mr. Bondareff's ensemble has changed the spelling of its no-nonsense moniker - in a playful nod to the typographical traditions of witch-house: K1llRGVP. The new recording has also appeared in the same "spectral" manner, a so-called "Pink Light EP."

One of the generic tags used to classify these recordings by Bondareff has been "drag," which is often seen as a synonym for witch-house, although it's much more suggestive of some material, even immobile burden than of flying broomsticks. It's ironic, in fact, that much of the sound associated with drag goes back to quintessential romantics such as the Cocteau Twins, yet today is more likely to be dismissed as po-faced "Goth juke" or "occult house," even. Over time, the sounds of dreaming within these styles have become deathly. Introspection shifts from a wistful to a worried tone.

Whether, therefore, we're talking about the gap between childhood fantasy and adult malaise - or between desire and demise - all of these recordings cast doubts upon the ability of hope and trust to survive forever. At least not very easily. And that sensation of lessening opportunities, year after year, only increases the need to push against inevitability. Daydreams vanish especially fast in the world of drag; the heads of Bondareff and Starzev, therefore, are lowered in vigorous, sage support of innocence. 

As a Russian saying has it: "Trust in God... but don't mess up." Hypnagogia makes that tricky.

K1llRGVP live: Felix Bondareff (left) and Ivan Starzev

Audio

Timely Aiah – Grandpa's Garage
Pixelord – Imaginary Friends
Pixelord – Keramika
Timely Aiah – Unbearable Girl

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