Russian music typically only seeps into indie rock consciousness by proxy. Be it the Balkan balladry of Beirut, or the gypsy folk of DeVotchka, the Eastern sound is slowly seeping into the west via American acts. Ukraine’s Gogol Bordello may be one notable (almost) exception (since they aren’t actually Russian), an Eastern European band gaining a sizable fanbase in the States, but still, Russia’s music scene is, for the most part, largely unknown around these parts. It would seem that there’s no better time than now for this Eastern block to come to an end, what with Vladimir Putin being named Time‘s Person of the Year, Eastern Promises earning Golden Globe nominations, and P. Diddy distilling vodka.
Even if it’s the only one, Gultskra Artikler provides a compelling argument to direct one’s attention to Russia’s current musical landscape. On new album Kasha Iz Topora, oddball mastermind Alexey Devyanin composes a strange and haunting world of creaking and crackling percussion, eerie strings and metallic rattles. Somewhere between avant garde compositions and ambient folk, Kasha Iz Topora is pretty much unlike any record you’ll hear, not just this year, but, more or less ever. There are elements of The Books in some tracks, Fennesz and Max Richter in others. Ambient may be the easiest way to classify it, but that doesn’t really cover it.
Supposedly inspired by a folktale about a “man with an axe that makes flying porridge,” Kasha Iz Topora is a continuous thread of music, uninterrupted in its ever evolving forms. Beginning with “Po Derevne,” Deyvanin juxtaposes melodica with harshly strummed acoustic guitar and woozy samples, fading into the ominous strings of “Begushemu Vpered.” “Slovami Poeta” is a playful tumble into a swirling vortex, pairing well with the smiling rose petal children on the back of the CD jacket. “Kuraga” is pleasant and serene, gentle electronics bubbling against hissing and skipping sounds, the likes of which soon become hypnotic. “Samouchitel” even has something of a beat to it, though not the kind that would incite dancing of any sort. It remains a low-key, atmospheric track, but one with a melody that slowly seeps into the unconsciousness, gently caressing as it progresses.
Packaged with liner notes entirely in Russian (save for a the very last page), Kasha Iz Topora is a very foreign and unfamiliar experience. Yet warming up to its curious charms comes easy. Alexey Devyanin has created something beautiful, something profound and unique. Russian music may still take some time to catch on in the States, but this is a damn good start.
Fennesz – Endless Summer
Max Richter – The Blue Notebooks
The Books – Thought For Food
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.