Three Levels of Complexity: The Slides, Reserve de Marche, and Ned Hoper

Our most recent discussion of The Slides (Слайды in Russian) was last summer, when the band had just published a digital album entitled "Soma." It appeared with a brief, pithy, and semi-serious promotional text: "The record promises to be an absolute gem! It'll sell in the millions and elevate The Slides to an elite category of Russia's music stars, not to mention appearances on worldwide TV. After that, no doubt, there will be all kinds of wild orgies, piles of cocaine... and the inevitable breakup at some point during the next three years."

Most of those predictions appear not to have come true. The musicians still live and work in the Far Eastern town of Komsomol'sk-na-Amure, shown above and which was closely tied to Chinese culture until the mid-nineteenth century. Peasants forcefully transported from central Russia "helped" to settle the territory at first; the industrial developments of subsequent decades then began to shape the city as it looks today. We're a long way from Europe - and the media thereof.

At the same time as our 2010 discussion of "Soma," several fans - predictably enough - asked online about the use of that chemical metaphor: "Did you take the name from Huxley, by any chance?" In "Brave New World," soma is a drug used to lessen social tensions and remove the need for spirituality. The actual name of that substance, however, was borrowed from an ancient, more optimistically conceived Zoroastrian drink. Linked - in terms of ritual - both to the plant from which it came and to a related deity, soma was the very embodiment of social unity.

That same subtext - of solidarity in the face of quotidian hassle or civic demise - endures. 

Symbols of chemically-fueled dreams (or mere hope) are drawn upon again in the group's current scribblings. We begin in familiar territory: "Soma was once an intoxicating drink: the nectar of the gods, it gave those who drank it a sense of both strength and joy." The artists also note that a great number of magical songs or incantations were dedicated to the same topic. Listeners to The Slides, as a result, are now invited to enjoy the new material at maximum volume. Grand ideas deserve many decibels.

The Slides admit that their work - both then and now - may seem a little "straightforward," but they immediately insist that a high level of care, attention, and craftsmanship has always gone into each composition. The band may laud an "evident spirit of rock 'n' roll" in their small catalog, but the pressures of actuality often seem to weigh heavily. Craftsmanship therefore takes the place of wild fantasy. Even having the time to be rebellious appears difficult. 

Maybe some of you thought we'd vanished

Recently the musicians said at Vkontakte: "Hi, everybody! Maybe some of you thought we'd vanished. In actual fact, we've been recording a couple of new songs..." The outside world makes the lofty, supernatural vistas of soma increasingly elusive - as a result of which, it would seem, the new single is called "Valium." Divine visions have become the avoidance of physical pain; staying the course - creatively - is less than easy. Relief is needed from the bumps and bruises.

And so a simple, "straightforward" approach is both more likely and effective as an expression of dedication (to a threatened cause).  In the band's own words: "Without any confusing experimentation, The Slides just do what they need to."

It's useful to compare that stance - and another staircase - with the Moscow outfit Reserve de Marche, who also have new recordings on display. Formed towards the end of 2009, the band's three members have dedicated themselves to a reconsideration of post-rock or post-metal: Aleksandr Alekseev (guitar), Dmitrii Pomogaev (drums), and Andrei Bagdasarov (bass). As we see from that roster, vocals are absent. From the realm of post-metal, they claim to borrow a certain "sensual melodiousness - together with the sonic experimentation of classic post-rock. The band's tracks are often built upon multilayered structures, composed in real time with the help of a guitar sampler."

Multilayered structures, composed in real time

We certainly find the vertical patterns of both those styles on display - in other words, a tendency to work "vertically," according to certain crescendoes, as opposed to anything that's dictated by a textual passage (alternating verses, for example). It's this slow accrual of volume, as opposed to narrative progress, that led in the past to a famous Western definition of post-metal as "the work of home-studio loners, rather than performing bands." It's almost as if the retreat from social spheres and bold, crowd-pleasing performance leads only to greater introspection - and anxiety, even.

The more complex one's thoughts, the more arcane and byzantine the tools needed to express them.

Again we find that the evocation - or mere enjoyment - of private reverie is not easy. The band's pages at Vkontakte include a range of documented obstacles or hassles - all the way from suddenly cancelled performances (for no apparent reason) to threats from Chicago's Russian Circles, suggesting that the band stop playing - or face legal action.

In St Petersburg, five hours by train from Moscow, we might propose a third stage along this road towards complexity - and away from social contact. In other words, we could turn to the multi-instrumentalist known as Zmitser Von Holzman, throughout whose discography intricacy and isolation walk hand in hand. In and around his hometown, the mystical or mythical Von Holzman participates in several ensembles, notably in the Do-Re-Mi Orchestra - as "Ned Hoper" - or with the SBPCh Orchestra.

The first of those three projects claims to play "minimalism for the youngest of children"; Ned Hoper meanwhile insists(!) that he's an Australian composer, "working simultaneously with musical collectives in various countries around the world." The SBPCh Orchestra is an offshoot of Samoe bol'shoe prostoe chislo ("The Biggest Prime Number"), an excellent St Petersburg lo-fi/acoustic hip-hip collective. The rambling style of that third outfit continues to find suitable formal expression in the addition of more (and more) members to its line-up.

The complexity can become bewildering.

It's from Ned Hoper (plus colleagues) that we now have a fascinating new album - suitably entitled "Mystification" and embodied by the busy cover art shown above. The story goes that these multifaceted, rhythmically complex songs grew from a Russo-Australian studio endeavor, specifically in the realm of cinema soundtracking. That hermetic existence, allegedly, continues today: "Together, the musicians spend most of their time in the studio, making special sound effects for both feature films and TV series... The resulting instrumentals [emerging from those effects] are both unusual and extremely varied. On stage the band members employ all kinds of devices: synths, guitars, vocoders, and even a theremin! Nonetheless, you wouldn't call this mere noise - it's a sound that balances between 'retro' and something ultramodern."

Synths, guitars, vocoders, and even a theremin!

It's balanced between what was and what might be; it's a consideration of potentials (both lost and sought) that's conducted in the confines of a studio, yet inspired by the silver screen. The resulting complex structures are no surprise, being the work of more "home-studio loners." Fantasy grows more swiftly from within narrow confines.

One of the web venues associated with all this mental effort actually bears the real name of one band member: Mitya Goltsman. Here, not long ago, he uploaded a tiny poem that shows with striking simplicity the relationship between dreams and dull actuality. Quotidian life interferes with thought - but it's gradually subsumed into the dreamscape. Rather than flee tangible experience, the dreamer instead ignores it - by insisting on imagination's superiority. Turned into English prose, Goltsman's little poem reads: 

"I'm reading Chekhov, but there's a problem. A finch is chirping at the window. He keeps bothering me. He either pecks stale bread, or drinks from a puddle. He's bothering Chekhov. I'll call him Anton." Fantasy outpaces and even shouts down fact; it's all a matter of volume. And valium.  


The Slides – Don't Forget
Ned Hoper – Mystification
Ned Hoper – That's How the Light Broke

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