Tucked away in one corner of the web is the homepage of Light and Day, a Moscow trio consisting of Ivan Malezhik (vocals), Lesha Kovalev (drums) and Egor Tkachev (bass). The band was formed in 2008 under Malezhik's guidance and the direct influence of another trio: Radiohead, Jeff Buckley and Dylan. These sources of inspiration are frequently referenced, just in case anybody might forget.
With an insistent system of name-checking in place, the band set to work. This may sound like the beginning of a lengthy chronicle, a tale of long-lived effort, but in actual fact, Light and Day were conceived only in the autumn of 2008, since which time their MySpace page has racked up over 14,000 hits. In short, the band's story thus far is one of concerted, yet brief effort.
Such earnest labor, however, has been constantly undercut by a sense of self-deprecation. Malezhik himself has noted in several promo-blurbs that his songs are "both lyrical and profound, combined with a certain element of self-irony, which is a quality lacking in a lot of independent musicians today." He has the confidence to make judgment calls regarding the quality of others' work, and yet admits himself to a simultaneous lack of self-confidence that finds expression in self-deprecation. This same wavering is noticeable in the band's history. Malezhik writes that when he started working with drummer Kovalev last year he necessarily ceased his work as a "solo artist, but the music lost neither its charm nor its sincerity. The songs began to sound sharper - yet without any loss of melody."
A collaboration would - logically - be considered a creative gain (otherwise why consider it?!); Malezhik, however, speaks about the partnership as a surprising lack of loss. This hardly sounds like the groundwork for long-term progress.
Cohabitation can certainly be a strain. Problems seemed likely...
And indeed, the reason for this post is - in part - to report that Malezhik has gone solo (again). This cannot be a heartening state of affairs, and yet if you list Jeff Buckley among your heroes, worry and loss will take on an air of suspect romanticism, a sense of pleasure born of some rootless anxiety. Buckley himself referred to his upbringing as that of "rootless trailer trash," which sounds absolutely horrific - and yet it's a core component of his marketable myth. This same melancholy is happily(!) taken on board by young and penniless Russian musicians; it's the desire for a stumbling, unruly aesthetic that's reflected in life - and occasionally your haircut, too.
An official statement has recently been released by Malezhik and used in order to kickstart the new solo endeavor, operating under the intriguing title of Weloveyouwinona. Presumably the girl's name here, squeezed into a long line of letters, refers to Winona Ryder, a young woman also from a transient, drug-dappled background who has, a result, fallen into trouble with the law, all whilst scaling the heights of cinematic fame. The sense of instability must be enormous. Her most famous failing, of course,was the 2001 conviction for shoplifting, a crime that's often attributed by psychiatrists to a deep-seated desire to gain control. The acquisition of an object - against all odds - gives a fleeting sense of security when those same odds have made a mess of your life in the outside world. Sympathy for a shoplifter would suggest that your own day-today activities are disconcertingly hard to handle.
On the webpage dedicated to the new project, Malzehik lists his new idols: Radiohead, Jeff Buckley and Dylan. Hm... A new attempt at an old goal. His new credo? "Malezhik continues to write solo material in English, paying special attention to the lyrical aspect of the songs, which - in distinction from a lot of contemporary bands - is full of heartfelt motifs and, at times, some caustic or sarcastic [edkie] notes of self-irony." Over and above the slightly different syntax here, the only new element is that adjective "caustic." Moving on to novel attempts at self-expression, Malezhik's self-doubt grows. It's a passage of dimishing returns, in terms of mental security.
Malezhik continues to write solo material in English, paying special attention to the lyrical aspect of the songs, which - in distinction from a lot of contemporary bands - is full of heartfelt motifs and, at times, some caustic or sarcastic [edkie] notes of self-irony.
This emotional pathos born of this dilemma that colors most of his work is certainly tangible in the accompanying visual materials, such as the one image (below) released thus far to evoke the raison d'etre of the new recordings. Dramatic black and/or white; nothing in between. A break has been made from the past, as an attempt to gain some clarity.
Stress, strain, and fatigue - born of these flip-flopping opposites - predominate as sung themes for Malezhik. Whatever the degree of posturing here, his decision to leave 14,000 interested people behind is clearly (i.e., immediately) consequential, so an element of seriousness in all his indecision cannot be denied. Likewise, his videos consist of nothing more than a slight human figure, bearing an oversize guitar, cloistered in a dark room; this audio-visual arrangement underscores the issues mentioned so far. The curtains visible in the background of these lachrymose laments are redolent of a bedroom at home, the need to fence oneself off from others nearby: the films, therefore, suggest both a youthful bedroom (at home with one's parents), the proximity of suburban neighbors, and a dalliance with drama or darkness.
These are serious emotions - pondered from a comfortable address. The resulting coexistence of an emotional maximalism and self-mockery here is easily understandable.
The debut two-track EP from Weloveyouwinona immediately offers more evidence of a central paradox with the artwork of a semi-transparent dancing couple. This image reflects both a successful union - and its absence. To boot, the pair appear to be dancing on the deck of a ship, itself the color of a swimming pool. Dancing on apparent solidity, the presence of water beneath this man and woman plays directly into the Buckley myth all over again. Malezhik's concerns, audible in these earnest and promising songs, come round once more...
Since he maintains that a lot of indie bands lack this creatively "useful" self-doubt, let's take a quick look at the band Na volne, who refer to themselves in English as "On Wave," with no time for definite or indefinite articles. "Na volne" would be translated as "on a/the wave" of water, emotion, and so forth. The band state at the top of their MySpace page, again in shaky English, that "we are doing indie for you," but any creative spirit that expresses itself in "waves" may not enjoy the kind of cocky consistency that Malezhik assumes to be inherent in all indie ensembles.
Uncertainty and change could predominate over anything confidently stable or focused.
On Wave declare that the band has managed to satisfy all manner of music lovers in the general public, "people whose playlists include lots of different stuff - all the way from trivial britpop to emo and goth bands.... The charisma of 'On Wave' is based on a crazy sonic hotchpotch, made of serious English lyrics and a sweet-sounding musical cocktail. The group is merciless in its dismissal of stylistic labels, the kind that can be hard to get out of your IPod." (The label of "indie" appears to be an exception...) In essence, therefore, there's more chutzpah here than we see with Weloveyouwinona, but elements of uncertainty are occasionally discernible.
Take the image below, for example, which plays upon a famous Revolutionary draft poster. With altered text, it now reads: "You Are Not a Fan of 'On Wave.' You Are a Poseur!" There's a fairly clear distance between the zeal needed to form a suburban band and the passion required to overturn the world's biggest country. What results is a melange of (embarrassingly grandiose, yet cherished) dreams and self-mockery, with the latter acting as a form of emotional insurance... just in case the dreams don't pan out.
Those same two tendencies come to the fore if we dig deeper into the band's webpages, taking a look at the sections that allow for audience participation. On Vkontakte, for example, members of the ensemble ask fans what they'd like to hear from the band. If, allegedly, we have escaped the preexisting limits of generic labels, where will a fickle audience take us?
One of the early answers asks for "increased professionalism in the sound, lyrics, and songwriting as a whole. The kind of things we've started to see in the new songs! It would be good if your album contained both the most popular numbers [from your live shows] and new stuff, too! We'd like lots of new feelings and experiences from the band! You've really got to rip it up when you present the new album to the public! We'll be there to support you!!"
The voices of encouragement are loud and clear.
Another fan asks for "a tour out to [southerly] Ul'ianovsk and Samara in support of the album. Experiment a lot in your work, of course, and how about trying doing a really good cover version of something, eh?" These and other comments suggest the kind of social backing that would rid Malezhik and On Wave of any apprehension; it would also make experimentation possible (such as solo projects!) amid understanding, sympathetic admirers. As a result, both concerts and record releases are planned with happy abandon...
... until somebody suggests that On Wave should play "lots of gigs in Moscow." Suddenly another fan chips in: "Um... don't play the gigs too soon, 'cos I don't have any money at the moment :-) " An awkward silence ensues. Another question is asked: "Does the band have those new songs ready yet [for a tour]?" "Nope!" replies the group, adding a smiley :-) afterwards. The emoticon tries to downplay the real disappointment at not having the songs quite ready. Big plans and grand emotions are evident in the bold and catchy tracks from On Wave that can be downloaded, but a closer look at the day to day workings of their operations shows how much hassle is involved - and how easily self-doubt can creep in.
The sense of growing pressure is palpable.
Meanwhile an optimistic groupie says that they should "get themselves a horn section... at the very least!!" There's no answer to this expensive, unrealistic suggestion. The silence is broken by the last post that is currently listed on the topic, a few words uploaded in the middle of the night: "I'm just waiting," says a male voice. Fans and band members wait in dark bedrooms alike, dreaming as they do so. Big hearts and bigger plans are in place, but the daily grind means that irony is frequently a more suitable form of self-expression.
One of the group's online pages lists their home address as Seliatino, which is an outlying district of Moscow, the kind of sleepy place where city streets start giving way to endless greenery. By car this is only an hour's drive from the capital. You can see a long way from a high building in Seliatino (below), and sixty minutes in the family hatchback is hardly a major expedition. Getting music to make the same journey, however, is another story altogether.
Hence the predominance of self-deprecation, Jeff Buckley, and Winona Ryder. Strange, yet suitable heroes for tricky situations.