Earlier today, four new tracks appeared from a project that came into being almost as recently: The Rare Plants Garden. Based - at least nominally - in Moscow, RPG consists of two musicians who've been discussed before on this site: Alexander Goryachev (better known as 813) and Yekaterinburg's Alexander Yefimov (aka Nienvox).
Why the collaboration, especially over such distances? Obviously these two men knew of each other's discography and wished to foster an overlap between their respective catalogs. More specifically, the tracks on display here are built with help from a colleague's toolbox. "Ease and beauty" are, we're told, two trademark characteristics of Nienvox's music. Yefimov wanted to employ and amplify that same sense of appealing ease, whilst offering his own "ambiguous melodies - and vocals, too." The transaction sounds a little lopsided...
Those two quoted phrases alone would suggest that anything produced by RPG might be distinguished by some kind of airy, ethereal quality - and indeed that's so. The overall goal of this duo, in fact, is to create the sonic equivalent of "musical and spiritual flora, imbued with the history of [US] psychedelia across the '60s. The [cultural] viewpoint [in these recordings] is one of impressionism, if not abstraction. Generally speaking, RPG offer a subjective perception of the '60s Zeitgeist - together with some parallel realities from Russia at the end of the second millenium."
Mr. Goryachev's gaze implies that within such retrospection sits an unnerving, contemporary consequence. We'll be moving beyond the narrow parameters of retro-chic.
When it comes to expressing those historical parallels in stylistic or generic terms, Goryachev and Yefimov told us earlier today that they're aiming for a "mix of guitar-based psychedelia and abstract hip-hop." That melange, straddling two different decades, finds immediate expression in the new EP's artwork. Although it claims to be inspired by the idyllic workings of impressionism or the happy dropout ethos of psychedelia, the rustic views on offer are somewhat severe.
...a mix of guitar-based psychedelia and abstract hip-hop
Rather than anything resembling a perfumed garden, they recall the yellowing, parched fields of an urban periphery - a place where rural comfort has long succumbed to asphalt, fertilizers, and the incessant rumble of nearby traffic.
The ideal celebrated in these songs, therefore, is elusive indeed. It is imagined with the hushed, rambling acoustics of late psychedelia - a time when the movement's ideals where under marked pressure from the outside world. Festival violence, the Manson murders, and mental problems among its major exponents are now seen are the key markers of psychedelia's decline.
Chemical experimentation worked so hard against the rigors of actuality that its practitioners suffered greatly. Ideals slipped slowly out of view.
The songs of The Rare Plants Garden are, therefore, simultaneously charming and disturbing. As audio material they seem a brief and touching tribute to a distant social movement. In the context, however, of their artwork - and the invitation of bold historical parallels - they are troublingly forthright.
Our musicians' quick nod in the direction of impressionism is equally instructive. What may seem an inconsequential enthusiasm for the chocolate box aesthetic of overly familiar paintings is, arguably, an honest awareness of what links those canvases to RPG's own visual materials: a direct concern with time's passage. The flicker of light across an impressionist painting was designed to evoke a humbling sense of nature's constant alteration; time would not stand still for anyone.
Our modern artists extend those metamorphoses to the point where they're ready to fizzle out. Change is about to become demise - once and for all.
If Goryachev and Yefimov feel a kindred spirit with late psychedelia, especially with the sputtering noise of its decline, then any link to impressionism will only underscore a concern with history's inexorable progress. The autumnal, suburban grasses of RPG, together with their audible "ease or beauty," are found in gardens that grow rarer by the day. Those places already have a precarious existence on the edge of urbanization; they'll soon vanish under a blanket of reinforced concrete. And still the search for some blissful epiphany endures - come what may.
Colored by growing pessimism, this quintessential desire or desperation of the '60s to surrender to something worthwhile is keenly mirrored by a new CD from Krasnodar's Modul. Although the precision of their crisp, often minimal techno differs from the acoustic shambles of RPG, there are still philosophical parallels.
The unflagging quality of Modul's discography continues with "Glorious Failure," released on the German label 3rd Wave Music. Word has it that French techno wizard Laurent Garnier is impressed.
Promoted (in rather moot fashion!) as Modul's first fully-fledged dance album, "Glorious Failure" comes on the heels of increasing overseas work by the project's core members, Evgeny Shchukin and Alexander Tochilkin. The musicians themselves are keen to describe the tracks showcased here as a musical parallel to their international experience. New places lead to new styles. The musicians speak of this CD as a "symbiosis of tuneful IDM with elements of classic electronica, all of which is added to contemporary rhythms."
...a symbiosis of tuneful IDM with elements of classic electronica, all of which is added to contemporary rhythms
A second reason for these syntheses, foreign travel aside, is not an empty striving for showiness, but - in Modul's own words - a conviction that "modern musicians should combine multiple skills and all possible resources. They should not be confined within the limits of any one movement."
Why, at the risk of sounding contrary, would one even make such effort in the first place? The words of Shchukin and Tochilkin may recall a conventional paean to artistic liberty, but - once again - we're led to contextualize these instrumentals within their verbal and visual surroundings. The green spaces of Krasnodar's parks hold more than pansies and lovebirds; we'd learn more, perhaps, by focusing on the dark foliage in the background.
Although our southern musicians, as ever, vigorously avoid all vocal performance - as lyrics or interviews - the title of this album is, to say the least, significant. An audio work, even before it sounds forth, is announced by its makers as a consideration of failure - or, to be exact, of remarkable, laudable failure. From a distance, the CD's cover - shown at the top of this post - appears to be a graphic reworking of some desert bloom and yet, upon closer inspection, we see that the design is supposed to be read centripetally, not as healthy outward growth but as an implosion!
It shows increasing numbers of aircraft flying - or tumbling - spectacularly into one common hole, a place of massive collapse. The "floral" appeal of that image is created precisely by the unnaturally - if not comically - high number of airplanes. Put differently, the grander their failure, the more attractive the display. Why, though?
The CD's programmatic title and celebration of collapse bring us back to the tracks from The Rare Plants Garden and their own use of floral or rustic metaphor. As mentioned, the psychedelic traditions used by Goryachev and Yefimov, those of a fading "flower power," resulted from a chemically enhanced reverie that pushed very hard against tangible reality. So hard, in fact, that it damaged those dreamers severely: mental breakdowns occurred. And yet, only by showing the limits of their starry-eyed yearning were those tail-end romantics able to prove the value of their evanescing ideals.
By vanishing themselves.
There's nothing more worthwhile than something worth dying for - but that commitment needs to be shown... with failure or, better still, death.
Fading and flourishing became synonymous: the former process is material, the latter ideal. Hence the autumnal image used by RPG. Its inherent value comes from the fact it is slipping out of view.
According to that logic, only in final or catastrophic collapse can the true extent of one's beliefs and fidelity be determined. The romance of failure steps forward - with shoulders pushed back and a big target on its chest. Mr. Yefimov - true to his romantic credo - is untroubled by the fading lushness behind him. He produces and lights a final cigarette, all in anticipation of a glorious failure.