Friday, September 30, 2005

Eastern Bloc-Rockin' Beats

Now that the Baby Lester Bangses have gone gaga for Gogol Bordello, I found myself digging out the lone non-classical Russian album in my collection. A friend spent a semester studying in St. Petersburg and brought us back a few post-Perestroikan souvenirs: cigarettes that smelled like a combination of burning tires and old people, real Vodka, and the album Leningrad (2002) by Tochka.

The band was, and remains, a bit of an enigma. Our friend testified to their (at least) local popularity in St. Petersburg, and they'd had the werewithal to commission album art from Gorillaz guy Jamie Hewlett. But none of Tochka's albums are available via the usual commercial conduits (e.g. Amazon) and what little information I've found is (surprise!) in Russian, so fat lot of good that does us.

But Leningrad remains a curiously compelling piece of work without the usual media-made mythology. A bit naive of me perhaps, but I wouldn't have guessed that a band born into the post-Soviet landscape would steal from as many styles as Tochka does. True, about half the album occupies that crusty cabaret niche in which Firewater have nested. But the rest of the album bounds from Bosstones-style ska to Knitting Factory jazz freakouts, finally closing with an oddly sarcastic gyspy techno track. The stylistic schizophrenia is balanced by bright production and instrumental consistency, as every song roars with crsiply-recorded horns and the singer's gravel-road caterwaul - which bears an uncanny resemblance to Tom Waits'.

Don't take my word for it, though...

"Into the Night" (Track 6 from Leningrad) -

This is without a doubt my favourite song on the album. It sounds like Mr. Waits, circa Frank's Wild Years, backed up by the ghost of goth greats the Birthday Party. The guitars shudder and scream, the rhythm section stomps like zombies, their plodding pace heralded by the horn section. A fierce piece of zoo music.

Title Unavailable for Translation (Track 8 from Leningrad) -

Though American ska-core (a la Fishbone) is a ubiquitous influence on the album, this song downshifts into some heavy-duty dub. It's missing the melting ambience of tape-echo, and I can't recall many Lee "Scratch" Perry records that featured accordian, but molasses-speed sway of the song is undeniably more Augustus Pablo than Petrouchka.

1 comment:

Courtney said...

Hey Seb, good to see you again. Thanks for coming by.