An Abiding Small Scale: The Melodies, IOWA, Mendream, and Candysplit

Denis Mendreliouk (Mendream, Moscow)

In the slow and unpredictable passage from online amateurism to a full-blown musical career, not everybody adopts increasing levels of volume. A growing desire to see one's catalog noticed is often kept quiet. One good example of this pleasing disparity between productivity and self-promotion would be the artist known as Candysplit. Not only does a taciturn performer prove constantly unwilling to advertise himself, he also does much to hide his identity.

Take, for example, the Facebook profile for this project. Allegedly Candysplit's real name is Aleksei Naumov. That same unremarkable information is nonetheless accompanied by a couple of additional and less likely claims. Naumov informs us he's originally from New York - and now living in Vancouver.

I'm an open, sociable person. I'm basically just really modest...

Further investigations on other social networks and forums, especially within Russia, provide totally different information. Here it slowly becomes clear that Candysplit is - instead - based in Moscow and wholly attributed to one Petya Nevzorov, originally from St. Petersburg. The further we look, the more that air of North American reverie fades. After some more digging, a tiny number of unfocused images are unearthed, showing Candysplit on stage - locally. Other additional facts also come to light, once again from Moscow, not British Columbia.

The vague outline of a self-declared "ultraconservative democrat"(!) becomes discernible, somebody who lived for a considerable time in Volgograd. Other deliberately created complexities can be discovered: Nevzorov announces himself, in terms of activity, as a "psychopath" and his primary interest as "psycho-neurological illnesses." His final, paradoxical self-statement consists of the following admission: "I'm an open, sociable person. I'm basically just really modest."

The rhetoric of self-promotion is not very welcome - and apparently unconvincing to its author.

A rare, deliberately unfocused image of Candysplit (Moscow)

Moving into similar, unavoidably noisy realms is a brand-new project, also from Moscow, known as Mendream. Fronted by Denis Mendreliouk, the band's roots can be traced back to the recently defunct collective Readmylife. That earlier ensemble - although never keen on self-advertising - at least gave domestic listeners some reference points with their overt love for Keane and Coldplay. Objects of desire helped to create a general context. Piano rock was name-checked as the soundtrack to advanced states of timidity. As we mentioned before, that same love for retiring English lyricism even extended to a cover of "Everybody's Changing," which is hardly an anthem to social bravado.

British indie-rock that moves into disco...

Now Mr. Mendreliouk informs us that he and fellow Readmylife colleague Andrey Nailer have parted company, although they remain friends. Mendream is up and running as a one-man project, and successfully so, but its frontman still expends equal effort on PR and self-mockery. The tracks on display here are, by way of illustration, tagged as "sarcastic disco jazz-metal..." The same deliberate muddle appears elsewhere, in discussions of "British indie-rock that moves into disco. Retro-ballads likewise transform themselves into dynamic new-wave..."

Russia's Rolling Stone has been especially kind towards this approach: "Wandering back and forth between Moscow and London, the young musician Denis Mendreliouk is an offshoot of modern cosmopolitanism. On the basis of this recording, he adores everything English... The tracks by Mendream are certainly capable of getting people on their feet - in the clubs of Denis' favorite two capitals."

Andrey Nailer (left) and Mendream reconvened for a recent Moscow show

As popularity and exposure both grow, the rationale of self-irony would logically start to fade. Take, by way of example, a third Moscow outfit, The Melodies. Refashioning aspects of '60s radio-friendly pop for a modern Russian audience, these artists have a more direct form of advertising on display. More specifically, they offer a reinterpretation of US protest songs from that same decade, although they first turn strident politics into pure (and kindly) ethics: "We support a form of struggle that has no tolerance for violence. A struggle in which the key role is played by one's heart... and soul [music]."

The creative process can grab any one of us - anywhere and at any time

Drawing overtly on the traditions of Motown, Chess Records, Decca, and Blue Note, The Melodies have scant time for the dismissive tendencies or counterproductiveness of self-mockery. Work and wayward behavior are no longer operating in the same space. Each and every moment is spent purposefully.

"The creative process can grab any one of us - anywhere and at any time. You might be going home from work and suddenly realize you've got a melody in your head - the kind of tune you should grab by the tail and never let go!" A purposeful tone comes to the fore: "The main thing is a feeling of social support [among ourselves and with the audience, too]... Music is a major component of our lives and we're really grateful to all our loved ones for understanding that [outlook]."

A purposeful gaze: The Melodies (Moscow)

Levels of goal-driven, determined activity are now - potentially - inconveniencing others. Shy, retiring self-assessment would appear to be more considerate, but is evidently counter-productive. Success requires bothering others. That scale - or distance from doubt - only grows, as we heard just before the summer: "Our creative plans are enormous! We're investing all our effort in them, so they'll come true." Mention is made of a 7-inch EP to be published and promoted in the US, together with work on a video and for a forthcoming album. "In the meanwhile, please keep an eye on our news - because the summer's going to be hot!" 

Our creative plans are enormous!

The growing number of exclamation marks speak to the palpable proximity of mainstream interest. Hit music needs hyperbole. And so we move to the nationally broadcast song festival New Wave (Novaya Volna), which is shown across Russia each summer from the Latvian seaside resort of Jurmala. Overseen by the industry clout of Raimonds Pauls and Igor' Krutoi, Novaya Volna serves to showcase young names within the mainstream pop of ex-Soviet nations. One of this year's competitors was the Belarusian ensemble IOWA, who are currently based in St. Petersburg

The first question that arises in several interviews with IOWA concerns, not surprisingly, their capitalized moniker. Rather than referring directly to the windswept US state, it - say the musicians - actually comes from a rather unfriendly quip concerning the slow lifestyle of that location. It's usually translated as "Idiots Out Wandering Around."

The Melodies and some wanton, wistful retrospection

As one online dictionary explains things: "Since everything closes at 4pm in Iowa, there's nothing to do in this ghostly state. People's idea of fun is: drinking, cow-tipping, possum-kicking, Flannel Friday, tractor racing... and counting how much corn they have in their backyard." For some reason this is understood by the musicians as synonymous with the phrase: "You can't hide the truth."

Formed in Belarus three years ago, IOWA have been based in Russia since 2010. Their self-description is much more serious and goal-oriented than the other bands thus far. Major professional options require a major scale - and third-person pronouns, too. "Music for IOWA is not just a hobby. It's a profession. These guys have all played as session musicians and performed at such [grand] venues as Red Square, Moscow's Olympic Stadium, and St. Petersburg's Ice Palace..."

Music for IOWA is not just a hobby. It's a profession

Lyrical narratives are amplified significantly as a result. "Sometimes a simple song will excite our memories, just like sediment[!] from the ocean floor that's roiled by a ship's anchor. The role of that anchor can be played by any sound, smell, color, or taste. We'd love our [sung] story to be that sound for you. Hopefully it'll be tied to an event in your life - and your life alone... because those are the events that create life."

Somewhere within these grand oceanic metaphors, moments of private experience and stubborn subjectivity abide. Those same fleeting references to smallness will become increasingly important, so to speak. Just as IOWA's general tone displays a register worthy of primetime media in the world's biggest country, a contrary tendency towards minorism also appears. As a counterweight.

IOWA (Belarus/Moscow)

"Our songs reflect ourselves. They're small stories about love and loneliness - about joys and sadness. We sing what we feel - and about things that genuinely concern us." As with The Melodies, we hear that every waking moment is full of these overlaps between work, worry, and inspiration... yet against all odds, we also find a focus upon the equal likelihood of success and failure, which serves to keep pathos at bay. The satisfaction and frustration of desire appear equally possible. According to the same logic, any love song that celebrates an emotional realization of some sort can only speak of temporary joy. Nothing lasts forever - and therefore grandeur is impossible.

Small stories about love and loneliness

What's remarkable, as a result, is that for all the (growing) professional confidence - and for all the snowballing banalities, even - an emphasis remains upon the smallest thematic scale possible. It seems that only "tiny" love songs about fragile sentiment or "loneliness" will strike local audiences as convincing. For all the commercial or media-specific need to increase one's promotional volume, Russian audiences are much fonder of - and convinced by - tales of minor success.

The outside world does not allow for major decisions and grand, lasting solutions.

A spirit of irony and self-deprecation endures, even if it's not directly voiced. The tongue-in-cheek statements one might expect from an underground artist such as Candysplit can be found even on the beaches of Jurmala and at a nationally famous, widely broadcast pop festival. New Wave declares itself as a "remarkable oasis of music, love, and unforgettable impressions." Its performers and audiences, whose notions of likelihood are fashioned by daily experience, would rather adopt a somewhat smaller scale of fantasy. One in which happy and sad endings are equally possible.

Speaking of one's hopes and dreams in an ironic tone simply helps to lessen the pain, should things go wrong.

Katya Ivanchikova, vocalist with IOWA

Audio

IOWA – A Simple Song (Prostaya Pesnya)
IOWA – Mama
Mendream – Talk to Me
Mendream – Warm Waters of Your Love

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