New Post-Rock Instrumentals: Grand Romance and Grim Realities

If faced with a selection of (post-) rock instrumentals from Russia, one might assume that the genre has been chosen, or become fashionable, even, through an avoidance of language. A musician's hopes for international fame and fortune would - logically - be increased by sidestepping the thorny issue of comprehensibility - and singing nothing. Rock instrumentals, however, have never enjoyed long-term commercial success or critical acclaim in the West. As a result, the one musical avenue that's easiest to adopt at home is one of little promise away from home.

If we look a little closer at three new instrumental releases from various regions of Russia this month, the choices involved are actually more complex - and more interesting, too. Let's begin with FPRF from Novosibirsk (above), whose lineup currently consists of Evgenii Gavrilov, Mikhail Gavrilov, Anton Glebov, and Daniil Sharomov. None of these young men sing very often; in fact, we only hear vocals on one recent track where the band is joined by a Novosibirsk neighbor, aka Space Holiday Rocks.

The clue to FPRF's reticence can be found in their artwork, an example of which we see below.

In brief, the members of FPRF do not see taciturnity as a problem. Quite the opposite: they view the absence of lyrics - in a most direct and romantic fashion - as a way of accessing realms that are closed to speech. The logic behind that standpoint can be explained as follows. The band holds that each time we speak, our choice of words is unavoidably made through the rejection of many more; put differently, in order to describe an object or experience as "X," we must abandon the infinitely larger number of synonyms that are not employed "Y," "Z," and all the others. As a result, narrow subjectivity and one's point of view become impossible to avoid.

Speech, therefore, is a self-defeating process, narrowing its purview with each utterance. From the brief observations left online by FPRF and their admirers, we can see the conviction that instrumentals, free of empty chatter, avoid that problem; they - by saying nothing - open the kind of unfettered, almost surreal vistas we see in the band's artwork. Things ineffable - and therefore limitless - come into view.

Things ineffable - and therefore limitless - come into view...

As one fan recently said on a networking website: "The new track's excellent. You can feel the springtime in each and every chord!!!" Semantic options blossom and flourish.

In a similarly "airy" fashion, one of the band's most recent works is entitled "Inhalation" and available as a single for free download. It comes to us almost simultaneously with the publication of two more brief and related tracks - bound by a similar cover: "This Is What We Talk About" and "This Is Where We Found It."

The titles of both speak to discoveries made either after or without conversation.

Vocals can be barely heard in the background, intoning rather than narrating. Only by stepping back from lyrics and language as a whole are the genuine contents of conversations supposedly revealed; "this" - once all is said and done - "is what[ever] we talk about." It's a confident statement of fact, made melodically, that does not lend itself to debate! It doesn't even start an argument, let alone prolong it.

Such bold, if not melodramatic conclusions are suggested by an ensemble whose heady romanticism is framed with a brief audio-snippet they've taken from an old news reel or soundtrack. Those few words are chosen with good cause; they're the call of a ship's captain, announcing to his crew that the vessel is ready to set sail. The voyages imagined are epic indeed...

In short, the members of FPRF have no time for understatement - and no fear of dizzy hyperbole.

Preparing for journeys of a slightly smaller scale are Do Not Be Surprised What Is Happening; the inclusion of a preposition - "by" - in that phrase would be a good idea - or perhaps the shortening of their name to the first five syllables. In any case, they've all been together since 2008 and currently form a quartet of Iurii Pakholkov (guitar and keyboards), Georgii Popov (drums), Igor' Tikhonov (guitar), and Evgenii Tikhonov (bass).

They're collectively from the industrial city of Dzerzhinsk, famous for the production of chemical weapons. The area's rather dramatic past does not inhibit a romance to match that of FPRF; the dreamers of Dzerzhinsk step forth from the gloom, saying little yet playing loud.

The band recently asked their fans at Vkontakte whether they, as most ensembles, should succumb to the need for lyrics: "D'you think we need words in our music? Personally, we don't! When you listen to the right music, the words are simply in your heart or soul. They're different for each person, too, expressing the most important and unique things possible. What do you think?"

D'you think we need words in our music? Personally, we don't!

At the time of writing, the great majority of fans had voted for "No Words" or "Only Sometimes." Nobody was terribly keen on verbose singalongs.

One admirer chipped in with additional support for silence: "I really love your music as it is. I fall into a trance.... :)))" Another added: "You don't need texts; there's simply too much significance in the music already. There's no way you'd transmit it all with lyrics."

Or, or an even more partisan level: "Everybody sees and hears what they want; lyrics will only strangle the meaning. No, no, and no to lyrics!"

A third release has just come in, though, that looks at wordlessness from a totally different perspective. From the streets of Togliatti, one's of Russia's centers of heavy industry, comes a new recording from Pokhot' (Lust), entitled somewhat strangely as "Armaturnyi Turizm" ("Armature [or Reinforced] Tourism"). One possible interpretation of that odd juxtaposition might be as a shackling of joyful, uninhibited fantasy and rigid, material constraints. What leads to that earthbound, less fanciful outlook? Age and experience or, as they say in Russian, "a realist is a romantic with experience."

And so, from a generic point of view, we move from the lofty, often cosmic heights of FPRF and Do Not Be Surprised... to the blues. The forward, hopeful gaze of post-rock becomes sad retrospection.

The rough, distorted, and downcast instrumentals on show from Pokhot' are even titled in ways that leave us stuck between romance and reality, between lofty feelings and dead weight. The six tracks of the new EP: "Big Money and Petty Cash," "Selling Concrete and Honey," "Chintz," "Gravel," "Clowns Don't Eat Ants," and "Fire-Bird."

Reading those titles from start to finish, it almost seems as if guitarists Mikhail Lezin and Sergei Liushkin have placed a mythical figure or life-saving transformation at the far end of a building site, barely visible amid the concrete and gravel. The older one is, the more that debris blocks a view of Stravinsky's romantic creation. Thus the silence of awestruck daydreamers becomes the tight-lipped realism of an older generation.

At the least the smoke over Togliatti creates amazing sunsets; they are a spectacle of slow decline which, as before, needs no commentary.

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