Cherepovets is an industrial city located between Moscow and St Petersburg. As one might imagine, that address has led - over the centuries - to a rich network of railways, roads, and other forms of communication. Iron and steel plants now form the backbone of local industry, having benefitted from the same connections. Consequently the city's name is synonymous with noisy enterprise. Here we find, somewhat surprisingly, the hushed duo known as 2muchachos.
Despite the scale and significance of their hometown - or perhaps because of that clamorous majesty - these artists cultivate a deliberately miniature aesthetic. This summer, the RussianAdults netlabel told us to expect "touching forms of indietronica devoid of almost any rhythmic pattern. And yet these performers have actually gained some beautiful phrasing [as a result] - all in a rather 'Soviet' manner. In other words, it's full of tidy harmonies and various noises that are taken from nature. Their music radiates with optimism - and will inspire you with a certain joie de vivre."
Touching forms of indietronica, devoid of almost any rhythmic pattern
Somehow peace and quiet are still obtainable amid the factories and smelting plants, which begs the question: where precisely and how? An investigation of the artists' minimalist web venues will show - in no uncertain terms - that solitude is key. In other words, the ideal environment for building the faint, lacy textures of ambient dreampop involves flora, fauna, and a marked lack of asphalt. The wistful notes of 2muchachos find expression in terms of escape.
Almost all the DIY imagery surrounding this ensemble is happily unfocused and/or poorly cropped - in essence, we're offered a visual celebration of nowhere in particular. Everything's captured with retro cameras that make a visual timeline equally blurred. We don't know where we are - and happily so. These recordings celebrate a generalized exit from concrete constraints and, in the same way, the lyrics on display in the newest 2muchachos' recordings are barely audible. We're presented with the merest intonation of introspective speech, rather than any specific statement. These are the sounds of nothing in particular.
Such elegiac, almost ecclesiastical compositions have found willing listeners far from home. Thanks to the publishing and promotional support of French netlabel Beko, 2muchachos have been praised on various anglo-blogs. The sense of retreat and removal we outline thus far is admired in North America:
A lesson in just how much can be done with subtlety
"2muchachos make wonderful, atmospheric music... A light female vocal hangs like frost in the air, just below [some] colorful and humming synth notes. It’s really a masterpiece, and a lesson in just how much can be done with subtlety... Dreamy keyboard reverb, [with] birds chirping in the distance. The tones begin [as both] light and airy, before unfolding into dark hues, soft highlights, and shifts in frequency." The entire experience is defined as "gorgeous."
Even in the most abstract or metaphorical phrasing, it's clear that unfocused photography, half-hidden voices, and an electroacoustic tape aesthetic are all redolent of departure and/or flight - to some imprecise, yet conceivable place of repose. Another US webzine has spoken in rather direct terms of how appealing those escape plans can be. "These are light and warm-colored ambient textures. [2muchachos offer] tiny melodies and field recordings to make you feel comfortable (even if you're sitting in a stinky dark room with your Macbook)."
Tiny melodies and field recordings to make you feel comfortable
Not everybody can manage that rush from urban or industrial actuality, however. Take the Moscow-based Yellow Blue Bus, otherwise known as a side-project from Ilyas Mikanaev, creator of the Electrosound label. First things first: the project's peculiar name... English speakers encountering the Russian language for the first time are occasionally informed that the phrase Yellow Blue Bus - if pronounced very quickly - sounds rather like the Russian expression for "I Love You."
Against that happy backdrop, suggestive of a realizable retreat from quotidian hassle, we find a new EP, "Thirdly." It is briefly framed by its creator as "six ambient/dub pieces [spun from a] deep and melancholic mood - at least at the beginning. Nonetheless, there's something good at the end." Over less than thirty minutes, we're promised a trajectory from negative to positive experience.
If 2muchachos work in service of an unchanging, almost "suspended" experience, then the fractured instrumentals from Yellow Blue Bus are slightly less optimistic. They speak of an impending exit. The act of flight is ongoing: it remains a promise.
Is that feeling of release from everyday worry easily obtained? If we look at Mr. Mikanaev's webpages, daily bother looms large. "Can somebody tell me how to block the sound coming from my neighbors? They've got the TV backed up against the wall - and it's basically broadcasting in my direction... through the brickwork. What I can use to cover the walls? Maybe some cardboard egg-boxes? Or should I nail up some carpet?"
Can somebody tell me how to block the sound coming from my neighbors?
Civic experience outdoors is no jollier. Mr. Mikanaev makes some ominous quips about the growing influence of retrospective Soviet-style culture in Russian cities. "Maybe we'll all end up dancing to folk music in Moscow's clubs - and not to the sound of overseas artists. We'll dress in really cool outfits, too: we'll have uniforms. Our wages will be good: they'll all be exactly the same. Our new leaders will value our creative work. They'll send us off to rest in places that aren't very far away..."
This semi-serious, bittersweet discussion of personal space and the likelihood of lyrical expression is nicely framed by another Moscow project known as The Cats' Orchestra. Behind that self-deprecating moniker we find Nikolai Syrov, drawing upon what he calls "avant-garde synths, noise, lo-fi [sounds], experimental electronica, and field recordings." Given that such discord will never be translatable into a decent wage, he admits to earning at least something as a chess tutor. Describing his life further in the third person, Syrov adds: "He spends his time discovering new approaches to music, while writing verse and short plays. He studies early Christian asceticism and Soviet documentary films..."
The effort needed to counter (or merely escape) clamorous actuality has become rather extreme.
Out of an almost charitable desire to archive and care for the smallest, most indistinct music amid the roar of traffic or shoptalk, Syrov also runs the important Dumpster Diving label and related blog. Both are dedicated to tape-based recordings, celebrating the most profoundly amateur sounds of all... come what may.
Music does not depend on time or location
In the same vein, some recent authorial texts at Vkontakte by Mr. Syrov have pondered the meaning of music - and what it means to engender sounds far from any institutionalized spaces, such as an orchestra pit or studio. With much hope, he reaches the conclusion that "Music does not depend on time or location." And yet the pressures both of passing time and Moscow's claustrophobia obviously bring complications. Hence the appeal of asceticism, itself grounded in principles of rejection and removal. Asceticism offers the promise of less.
"Coffee Killer," published through Already Dead Tapes (Chicago)
Some sense of how difficult it can be to divorce penniless creativity from urban custom is heard through Syrov's fondness for Samuel Beckett's words, taken from "Worstward Ho" (1983): "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." Only through determined, illogical commitment will true opportunity reveal itself.
And, if we look at the reception of The Cats' Orchestra outside of Russia, the same tensions between life and lyricism are felt by distant listeners. "This is equal parts Scott Walker[!] and eerie, melting lounge music... There's a drunken, zombie-music vibe. The original seed of a song seems to be present, but it's coated in peeling flesh and [has] a rotting odor..." Syrov's US label, Chicago-based Already Dead, places these same sounds "somewhere between experimental [enterprise] and folk." Between investigation and tradition... between failure and security, even.
This is equal parts Scott Walker and eerie lounge music
In looking to whether some departure is possible from the awkward, often exhausting conflict with daily materialism, Ilyas Mikanaev has just offered some advice - tongue in cheek. He recently posted some wise words from the actor Chuck Norris(!), complaining that too many people submit to their own defeatist worldview. Self-realization, claims Norris, is all a matter of positive thought. Whether the experiences of daily life in Cherepovets and Moscow allow for such sunny viewpoints is another matter. Especially if the neighbor's TV keeps on playing - and drowning out the possibility of any alternative soundtrack. Nikolai Syrov's view of healthy solitude is therefore cast in darker hues.