"Without Oxygen" (Bez kisloroda) comes to us from St Petersburg's Galya Chikiss. A craftswoman of delicate, ambient textures, she categorizes these works with a nod in the direction of louder styles, such as "dream pop" and "shoegaze." The same compositions are then accompanied by a few sentences to darken the mood further still: "These are ominous, romantic songs about true love. They tell of people disappearing in the woods, a werewolf-groom, and devilry in the Far North. Expect stories of drowning – and revenge. All in all, these songs offer an excellent trip - with a bad premonition..."
One of the most powerful expressions in Russian rock of what - perhaps - lies beyond normality comes from Moscow's challenging, constantly excellent uSSSy. The band is currently a twosome, Artem Galkin (guitar) and Pavel Eremeev (drums) - although they have long been involved with colleague Aleksei Taroutz in other art- or math-rock adventures such as IAAOTL, Wogulow Taroutz Vermo and Kruzr Ken. As a separate entity, USSSY itself has been in existence since 2007. The band's springtime recordings this year gave voice to some disconcerting aspects of Russian experience by drawing upon the "alien" traditions that lie along a war-torn national border, specifically with Afghanistan.
One of the most isolated places we've documented on FFM also has the potential to become one of the most promising: Yakutia. Situated north of Mongolia and roughly 3,000 miles from Moscow, Yakutia is still associated by many people with stereotypical narratives of political exile or other "challenges," almost all of which involve unmanageable distance. Given that rare mix of isolation, fate, and enduring romance, even, the opportunities here for digital enterprise are considerable. Striking sounds begin to emerge from a dramatic address.
Aleksandra Obraztsova's intriguing stage-name is a play upon the title of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's 2001 feature "Amelie." Obraztsova authors her hushed, pensive songs using the alter ego of "Ameli na Meli," which might be translated as "Amelie on the Rocks [or Aground].'" Whatever the case, audiences are offered a bittersweet quip regarding a stranded heroine. The world mistreats the kind of gentleness that's framed with similar humor in Jeunet's screenplay: "Amelie has a strange feeling of absolute harmony. It's a perfect moment. A soft light, a scent in the air, the quiet murmur of the city. A surge of love, an urge to help mankind overcomes her."
Alina Os is based in Zelenograd on the outskirts of Moscow, where she received a musical education, specifically with regard to the piano and a classical repertoire, though she has just as much experience in the related realms of folk and Orthodox Christian performance. She recalls her early choral classes - and concerts - with fondness. "Even now, I consider the kids in my school choir to be my second family. Together we traveled around half of Europe. It's simply that I reached a moment where I needed to perform something more than any canonical material - something more than folk songs or spiritual texts. I wanted some jazz!"
Selekhov, despite any apparent reference to a single performer, are actually a trio from the Russian river port of Rostov-on-Don. The band's current members are Pavel Astakhov, David Kogan, and Aleksey Ukhanov. Their collective pseudonym or imaginary surname is taken from a retired and provincial inventor, Vladimir Selekhov, renowned on national news programs for creating DIY scooters from scrap iron. He turns all manner of junk - such as broken prams - into peculiar, yet perfectly functioning transportation for elderly adults. Selekhov - the ensemble - speak highly of this pensioner's "freakish, yet futuristic" contraptions. They laud his lo-fi, yet "progressive" craft that refashions and revives discarded raw materials. Our Rostov-on-Don performers discern a related reworking of sonic off-cuts in their own endeavors. They make something from nothing - in the middle of nowhere.
ABC Galaxy's brand-new publication is entitled "Captain Eureka," a phrase with special resonance for some US listeners. It suggests the comedic sci-fi television series of several years ago, "Eureka." Far off, in the Pacific Northwest, a town of that name was supposedly used to develop the best tech projects by the nation's finest thinkers. The head of the town's recycling program, Chuck, allegedly had an alter ego: "Captain Eureka." His success, was minimal, however; big plans for an "epic" future often went terribly wrong. Roman Skarednov – our author - has been happy in the past to refer to his "nostalgic soundtracks for an anxious childhood." Adult, forward-looking fantasies don't always go according to plan; heaven only knows what lies ahead. It's also fairly common to see the work of ABC Galaxy associated with the soundtrack to "GTA: Vice City," released over a decade ago. The same youthful memories are then mixed "in an '80s style." The further back in time we go, the better everything looks. "Captain Eureka" embodies a similarly tentative view of the future. Its author speaks of "operating on the [thin] line between dance music and a rock aesthetic. Actually, I am trying to erase that line altogether." Sounds of civic protest and hedonistic, social faith on a dancefloor try to remove the "anxious" differences between themselves. For this reason, Skarednov calls the new album "something of an experiment. 'Captain Eureka' is an attempt to combine motifs of euphoria, pleasure, panic, and horror." Anything is hopefully possible. The gentleman behind ABC Galaxy is even willing to draw some parallels "with the current [and equally worrying] economic state in Russia. You'll find some nods towards talk of 'the Red Cosmos,' but they're only used with irony." Those "cosmic" aspirations likewise proved to be frustrating.
Recently some lyrical observations appeared on a Siberian website. "You're slowly making your way through the tree branches, in search of something or other. There's darkness all around; nothing can be seen. In fact it's so quiet, you can also hear your footsteps in the snow. You inhale - and move further. Somewhere in the distance, a faint light is visible. An object is buried in the snow. You pick it up and discover an image, drawn with music. It was made especially for you by an elderly owl. She must have dropped it as she flew past..." These imaginary locations trump dull actuality elsewhere. Another wistful passage, penned by the same author in Russian, reads: "You think everything has perished. But no, the forest has long awaited new inspiration and ancient melodies. It has waited for the melodies that burst forth from the snow - and ascend in dazzling fountains of sound. You'll soon understand what's happening here; soon you'll comprehend the secrets of a magical forest. Everything's in a state of hushed anticipation. Somewhere in the distance an elderly owl is calling - as it waits for the onset of a cold winter." In both of these sketches, a lone figure discovers a surprising bond with a distant, snowy location. Solitude is more telling than social existence; it's also unveiled in sound, rather than through wordy analysis. These understated celebrations of loneliness and the Siberian landscape have been well received in and around Novosibirsk, a city which is home to their author, Darya Diez (aka Darya Shakhova). Known already to us as a singer-songwriter, Diez is here showcasing an instrumental project known - fittingly enough - as The Owl. The album itself is called "Fairy Forest."
Ned Hoper (St. Petersburg, Russia): "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 unusual and extremely varied. When 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." Linear narratives and intentions give way to wandering, wayward designs. Everything's balanced in between what was and what might be, between a fixed past and open-ended future. All in all, This band's self-statements become a consideration of potentials (both lost and sought) that are conducted in the confines of a studio, yet inspired by the silver screen. The intricacy of any resulting structures is no surprise, since what we hear is the work of "home-studio loners," as Ned Hoper put(s) it. Fantasy grows more swiftly from within narrow confines. As one can surmise even from these brief notes, Hoper is a figure who (or collective that) values fantasy over fact - and change over stasis. The more that viewpoint is exercised or elaborated upon, the less we see a concrete individual. Activity overshadows identity.
The stage-name Empty Patterns serves a dual purpose. Not only does it hide the identity of a living individual; its core metaphor of absence is also realized sonically. Themes of non-presence are used by an author - and then made audible. These dalliances with some form of lack began late in 2012, when our reclusive Russian artist was finishing work upon an album-length recording called "Hyperstatic Rainbows." That fact alone allows us to say - with certainly - that the musician in question is Denis Davydov, who lives in the industrial city of Cherepovets on the banks of the Sheksna River. He is best known to us under the alternative name of Valotihkuu. Davydov turned two years ago towards the side-project of Empty Patterns "in order to experiment a bit more" and escape briefly from the glo-fi aesthetic of Valotihkuu. Under the admitted influence of William Basinski (New York) and Celer (Tokyo), Davydov set to work on similar "melodies, harmonies, and - most importantly - the overall atmosphere." Without haste, sufficient material was accumulated for an instrumental EP, but an additional wait for related artwork led that small recording to become an entire Empty Patterns album. A total of twenty resulting compositions were thematically interwoven by "a shared, sad atmosphere. It would hopefully carry the listener far into the distance - or into the past." "As I was writing these Empty Patterns tracks, I imagined all kinds of empty buildings to myself. They included large and vacuous halls, in the center of which a gramophone was playing. I also imagined dusty old libraries where a half-broken radio was somehow still broadcasting. All of that is reflected in the titles of the tracks, at least tangentially. After all, I deliberately avoided anything too specific, allowing audiences to imagine something of their own. That's why the titles refer to a range of [obscure] psychological states; it seemed to me they capture the album's ambiance best of all. For example, tracks like 'You're in the Boat' refer to somebody leaving the stuffy, claustrophobic surrounds of a building - and heading out to the endless expanse of the sea."
The full Russian version of Hellspin's name would translate as "Hellish Revolution." Band members sometimes joke about the ways in which local existence tends to frustrate any private fantasies of freedom. Chance plays a greater role than personal wishes and/or planning. "Our band came together on the wide-open expanses of [modern] Moscow thanks [only] to the effort of two provincial jerks." A little detective work reveals that those same provincial locations are Perm and Kirov. "The group's first rehearsal occurred merely by chance... Our guitarist didn't turn up. After the first few chords, though, it was clear that we didn't even need him. What we did need was a female vocalist." Eventually that missing, yet vital colleague would be found: Lyudmila Shilova. Together with Yura Teterev and Pavel Rusakov, Shilova would come to produce what Hellspin calls "minimalist hard rock. It's a dalliance with both punk and stoner styles." The band has just announced a second album that invokes the Devil, nuclear war, a "chorus of the Dead," and concentration camps in the first few minutes. That general air of disaster always trickles down to daily life. Shilova jokes that she gets love letters from fans in provincial towns who "cannot live" without her - yet they also can't be bothered to buy a train ticket to Moscow. One young and potential groupie wrote to her, declaring his love. Shilova answered, presumably in jest, that she was high on heroin. He never responded.
This is a brand-new Art Electronix EP, "Partly Broken" (FFM6). Katya and Zhenya have looked back with fondness at their youthful acquisition of bootlegged Western recordings on cheap audio cassettes. The levels of distortion caused by lo-fi media "left an indelible impression on our youthful consciousness." To this tinny, troubled sound-range we can then add the duo's first compositional tools. Our artists beagn composing on an Akai S3000XL. Now almost two decades old, the S3000XL was once considered a high-end purchase. Its charm now, however, is its age... and related deficiency. It might now be considered an ailing antique - and loved as such, too. The Akai S3000XL has a general tendency to break down. "Our tools have never really been in an ideal state. Early on, we were constantly hounded by mishap and never able to get the perfect sounds we sought. Things changed, however, when we started using our instruments in their given condition - despite their technical failings." The noise of failure became something to celebrate; it was honest, homegrown, and consoling. A new point of departure, perhaps. "Our work is an endless overcoming of difficulties. Problems here are like plants that keep pushing up through the asphalt!"
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