A Twilight Tunefulness: Plee, Flourish Fill, Starcardigan, and Lowkarma

Flourish Fill (Vova Korablin, Moscow): "Be Well" (2012)

Today marks the second occasion on which we've examined the secretive figure of Flourish Fill (Vova Korablin), who is based in Moscow. At the time of that first visit, Korablin's Tumblr account was decorated with a striking, if not disturbing backdrop image: Death sawing through a tree. His initial videos depicted crying children and anguished horsemen. Since that initial encounter, the images have lessened in number - and the videos doubled. The primary style of his short films is now what we might call retro-glitch. Footage from aging B-movies or educational films of yore is shown in the process of twitching demise. Snippets once designed to show an adventurous view of the future - through scientific discovery, say - themselves look old and fragile.

The present is slipping quickly into the past; Flourish Fill's multimedia enterprise foregrounds the demise of some erstwhile dreams.

A twilight tunefulness

It's interesting, in that light, to consider a single sentence used previously by this artist to frame his output. He once stated: "He who steps beyond the limits of dreams will blossom." Shock and surprise - through the combined challenges they offer to convention - were once apparent guarantors of progress. As we see from the more recent videos, though, even the intrepid will eventually grow old - and fade away. For that reason, perhaps, other venues showcasing Flourish Fill's music have referred to his style as a "twilight tunefulness." These are the sounds of ephemerality.

A new album appears this week from the same city and performer: "Be Well." It arrives almost simultaneously with some approving words from a handful of fast-moving webzines. In those discussions of the LP, the issue of glitchy, flickering soundscapes, full of cuts and clicks, appears from the outset. An "upbeat" aesthetic turns to sadder emphases as time slips away. 

Vova Korablin

Flourish Fill, we're told, "plays lo-fi electronic pop that’s very upbeat and quirky. Layered with shimmery, arpeggiated synths and swooping atmospherics, the music carries a steady beat with its echoing, sampled vocals. The [overall] mood [however]... seems filled with agitation and melancholy. Perhaps that's a reflection of life's daily monotony, [something] also expressed in the repetitiveness of the music. But behind [it all] there exists an air of hope, an air of [some] flourishing future."

Sounds filled with agitation and melancholy

The contradictions within that quote make it especially interesting. Over the course of three or four sentences, we move from an upbeat air to melancholy, passing through creeping anxiety en route. The closing sensation is one of tenuous "hope" for the future. Once more, tomorrow looks less assuring than today. This retreat from shared assurance or anticipation is something that colors the work of Danila Plee (aka PLEE!), whom we've followed since the outset of FFM.

The last time he published some of his trademark, uncomplicated instrumentals, they came in the form of his "Plane Charmer" EP. Small-scale, daily diligence was more important than any grand movement towards the future. "I do some bench presses, work on my designs, study solfeggios... and continue knocking out some beats!" As the EP was placed online, PLEE! continued to avoid any of the forward-looking cockiness that marks traditional PR materials. "This is just some music I wrote… What on earth can I say about it? Just try and lock yourself in a room, smoke some pot, and relax before listening to this EP for the first time. If you feel like dancing... you can dance. Nobody cares! Have a good time."

PLEE! (Moscow): "Heart Flux" (2012)

In his brand-new publication, released through Connecticut's Grappa Frisbee label, we see the same topic of growing ephemerality that is so clear on "Be Well." PLEE! helped to flesh out the general context of the new LP with some remarks this week for the Moscow press.

"When you play three concerts over a single weekend, your view of [your own] music changes considerably. When autumn arrived [after those demands were over], I was finally able to take a break and consider what I wanted to hear from myself. From an archive of 150 tracks and [many] beats, I chose the ones that together form a coherent sound. I wanted to make something with an unhurried, yet 'melting' air - just like my favorite ensemble, Boards of Canada. I wanted to make something autumnal."

Something autumnal

And so we have the soundtrack to an unhurried, seasonal - and therefore inexorable - passage towards winter.

A more specific form of transience appears with Lowkarma, a Voronezh-based duo. They describe themselves with great simplicity: "One of us plays using his hand [in the singular!], the other works with his mouth." Elsewhere on Russian social networks, we're told to expect "an incisive sense of yearning... From a musical point of view you'll discover an enveloping wave of beautifully mobile, fluid, and even airborne sounds." In that final sentence, a promising note emerges for the first time. In other words, the idea of time's swift movement is - finally - turned to positive use.

How, though, can this happier view of transitoriness be explained or justified?

Danila Plee

The members of Lowkarma framed some recent sounds for Shufflebrain with a call to abandon all artistic schools, groups, and movements. Related labels, they insisted, simply give a false sense of permanent membership or terra firma. Truth, according to a related rationale, must first dispense with all comforting illusions of permanence. Self-awareness and liberty will supposedly come from an active destruction of all bonds or attachments.

Group membership is nothing more than a form of acquisition, something tied closely to consumerist habits, perhaps. And so we hear from both Lowkarma and Shufflebrain: "Who am I? My desires are tied to consumer culture. My emotions are a reaction to [other,] unrealized desires. My behavior is a collection of labels that've been thrust upon me. My fears are the fears of my forefathers, the people who bequeathed me their [dubious] experience. My errors are those of a society that has forgotten where to go. And where am I amid all this trash?"

My desires are tied to consumer culture

An answer transpires: "One day you'll stop, exhausted from this endless, crazy rushing around, and you'll [finally] understand. You'll see it's time to cast off the chains that bind you to a filthy sack of illusions. You'll only witness your true face once you've shed a patchwork fabric of self-deceit." 

The newest Lowkarma recordings - "Lowlife" - do not shy away from an extension of that challenging, spartan romance. "This is a 32-minute session of sonic therapy. It's a passage into outer space. Have you ever seen the sun at close range? 'Lowlife,' operating just like the sun, both destroys and purifies. Illusions will turn to dust; fears and self-deception will both come to an end. I gaze upon the very creation of my being. 'Who am I?' Look deeper."

The promise of immateriality: Lowkarma (Voronezh)

Put differently, despondency over the internal workings of clocks and calendars is an inherently material concern. Independence from consumerist and/or physical desire will prove itself a fine, first step en route to ending the same misery. The desire to "hold on" will fade, in various senses.

Given those conclusions, there's a wonderful logic to the ideas we hear from another - more distant - duo, Starcardigan. The two figures involved in this genial project are Vanya Sosnovtsev (vocals, guitar) and Alexander Frakysky (keyboards).

We've made our first recordings. Take a listen!

Playing upon the local significance of their trademark downtempo, easy-going songwriting, they describe their small catalog as "Pacific chillwave." That adjective refers both to Starcardigan's address - in distant Vladivostok - and the peaceful tones on display. In a related manner, Sosnovtsev and Frakysky also call themselves the "floppy princes" of the same coastline. It's unclear whether that's a reference to casual haircuts or an equally "chilled" way of standing. Either interpretation suggests tranquility.

The fiscal and professional yearning here is minimal. "We don't intend playing live in the near future. Instead we'll continue writings songs for a new album. We'll hang around in bars and listen to musicians who are much cooler than us." Sosnovtsev and Frakysky then "quote" the wisdom of MC Hammer, who - allegedly - held that music should operate free of all obligations and dictates. Apparently such ugly, crude insistences are better suited to whether or not a hot dog "must" have mustard.

Insistence is a wholly material issue: it's born of the suspect desire to have and to hold. Forever.

The view beyond objective experience: Lowkarma: "Lowlife" (2012)

Doubts over the validity of that quote increase when we're then offered some additional words from an October 2012 edition of Rolling Stone(...). From the outset, the likelihood a good-natured forgery is high. In translation, those same approving phrases read: "The amazing popularity of Starcardigan in America is assured [for a long time], given how well the band preserves the traditions of Manowar and Iron Maiden..."

Nothing could be further from the trouble-free, knowingly twee tones of Starcardigan than hirsute heavy metal of the 1980s. The former outfit has - on several occasions - held the world record for the loudest and longest metal concerts ever. Our "pacific" artists are anything but insistent noise-makers.

Pacific chillwave

The purpose of such quips - and false claims to grandeur - is not only to use self-deprecation as a defense against the (possible, hurtful) critique of others. They also express a simple, genuine belief that easy-going creative enterprise, far away from the pushy obligations of business, is fine indeed. Arguably the very best place in which to foster an escape from Moscow's landlocked cupidity is a port - at the other end of the world's biggest nation.

Four thousand miles and a seaward view should help to nurture an independence from arrogance - and therefore from the anxieties of transience. Flourish Fill's dossier shows those concerns both with roughly pixelated images and glitchy, wobbly instrumentals redolent of failing media. The same frustrating fears also lead to the mission statement from Lowkarma - that modern experience should be divorced from acquisition as fast as possible. The recent snapshot below from Vladivostok suggests that the result of that flight from covetousness is indeed positive and "pacific."

Starcardigan (Vladivostok): A. Frakysky (L) and V. Sosnovtsev

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