The gifted Moscow trio Triangle Sun have just announced the release of a second CD by the name of "Iris." Although several of the tracks are already known to a wider audience, the album's publication is a significant event. A little context is required in order to explain why, but in essence it is a matter of generic specificity. What, in a word, does "downtempo" or even "soft rock" mean in the Russian context? From what state, precisely, is this deceleration taking place?
In answering, we should start by establishing the band's line-up of three accomplished musicians: Aleksandr Kniazev, Vadim Kapustin, and Garik Gagarin. From the outset, their shared aesthetic has always focused upon downtempo or lounge tendencies. Not surprisingly, perhaps, their debut album of 2007 - "Diamond" - enjoyed particular success in the surroundings of Moscow's restaurants and quieter clubs. Airplay on stations such as Jazz Radio and RelaxFM only helped to underscore the trio's reputation for gentle, unhurried songs.
Distant clouds and unfocused lights also set the scene.
Themes of distant Ibiza were often drawn upon, but now with this second album, all talk of rest and relaxation has taken a more dramatic turn. Leading these thirteen tracks - as the prime indicator of such changes - is a markedly different piece of work: "Where Will You Go?" The promotional film for that song - included in our Video section - is a dark depiction of one woman's rapid descent from the dancefloors of Moscow to unemployment, prostitution, and even death - all due to cocaine.
Once the lyrics have been read or the video seen, it's clear that the title refers to degrees of retreat from actuality. In other words, a narrative line is drawn from modish clubs to low-grade drugs - with some ethical observations made en route about a proper stopping place. Put differently, how far should anybody go in search of an escape from daily pain?
When social pressures increase, the need for an emotional reprieve of some description is obviously high, but it needn't extend to packets of white powder.
Triangle Sun perform their songs in English. The lyrics to "Where Will You Go?" read as follows: "Every breath of your life is a drag / 'til Johnny brings you that little bag... / To stay alive / One more night. / Your brain is like a telephone, / You're on the hook when Johnny's on. / He'll bring you the stash... / if you have the cash. / You feel like a lion, / So courageous you could jump through the fire. / But you're just a spark / Burning out in the dark. / Days are rushing by so fast; / You were the first, but now you're the last. / The things you have lost / Only God knows the cost..."
The things you have lost. Only God knows the cost...
The band maintains that the clip was banned from television, which - to be honest - would be something of blessing in that such disapproval simply drives greater traffic to online venues. If official disdain was indeed that severe, it may have been prompted by the last few seconds of the film, in which the "heroine" is shown surrendering sexually to her dealer.
Overall, though, the video takes a dramatic stand against a growing problem in Russian society. There's no real attempt to glamorize the drug, since we see this girl's story in reverse. Before we observe her in moneyed, elegant surroundings, we already know where her "casual" drug usage will end. Destiny looms large.
The musicians themselves describe the footage as "as well-intentioned and educational [material]... from the masters of relax-music." Once again, a connection is drawn between chic Moscow nightspots and suburban drug dens - a lamentable connection, brought about by the desperately driven, if not moribund search for "relaxation."
In this setting, even the wistful, florid design of the band's album cover becomes something of a Rorschach test. Its meaning is locally dependent.
Official figures in Russia maintain that the country is home to 2.5 million addicts; reality could be much worse. Approximately (in other words, at least) 30,000 of them die each year, often due to impure cocaine and heroine that crosses the border with Kazakhstan, sometimes coming originally from Afghanistan. Kniazev, Kapustin, and Gagarin try to counter such awfulness with good deeds - more specifically with charity concerts. One such event was recently held for children suffering from facial disfigurement.
These bold social extremes may seem out of place for a band whose songs are best suited to mediterranean shorelines, but - as mentioned - difficult lives prompt radical forms of escape. The need for relief is widespread.
Lest the kindly acts of these fine musicians seem an aberration, at least one other example should be offered in the same spirit. Fitting candidacy can be discovered in distant Khabarovsk, almost 4,000 miles from the streets of Moscow and close to the Chinese border.
Here we find the collective known as "Tree, Bosier" (or Дерево, Бозье in the Russian version of their name). The band, as with Triangle Sun, was until recently a trio: Maksim Anan'ev, Kseniia Badera, and Aleksei Rusinov. Together they became skilled manipulators of a leisurely, if not semi-improvized style of jazz and/or trip-hop. By their own admission, the members of Tree, Bosier turned their listed influences - the Cocteau Twins, Prefuse 73, and Telefon Tel Aviv - into “an ensemble for people who like sleeping beneath the magic polyphony of ambient compositions.” That joint project, however, is temporarily operating as a one-man show; Anan'ev is working alone... at least for the moment.
The theme of slumber is very prevalent, as we'll see, but any leaning towards drugs is absent. In fact the band's page at Vkontakte asks listeners which music they prefer when actually asleep. What might be the fitting soundtrack for an individual who has tuned out of all vertical activity?
One admirer answers that in slumber he imagines hearing "some really deep, slow house tracks with a drawn-out bass sound. Something really hypnotic..." Another - with the help of much alcohol - admits that he's overcome by music of a "calming, symphonic sound. The harmonies of massed harps and violas!" That may be piped music coming over the hospital radio system.
...a calming, symphonic sound. The harmonies of massed harps and violas!
The downside of such experience can be that bad melodies during slumber might lead to negative effects in reality: "I once heard music in my sleep that was so bad I woke up to the sound of my own scream... and a massive pain in my leg. I twisted it so badly I was limping for two days."
As mentioned, for all the spaciness of these suggestions, talk among the fans of Tree, Bosier does not turn to chemical assistance. The group's newest compositions are gathered under the title of "Motion Picture Soundtrack." Reverie works just fine without the help of razor blades or small mirrors.
Judging by the cultural mythology behind these two ensembles, Moscow's surrounding reality can drive people to cocaine; in Khabarovsk it is more likely to send them to bed. In both cases, the need for downtempo, soothing music is clear. Something, however, changes across those 4,000 miles between European Russia and the Pacific Coast. For the better.
Those people who dream of a career in film or television probably move to Moscow. It would seem easier to move to Khabarovsk and invest in a good mattress; the soundtrack to some very good films is guaranteed.
Including a fitting sunset for the closing credits.