For once, I will start the review with the conclusion: this stuff is fantastic. Honestly. You should stop reading now and go straight to check the music. Or, better said, to check the art, a veritable triptych divided into three sections.
Not much has been said about the Russian/Israeli London-based collective in the last years, since their 2016 album ‘Kadita sessions’ and subsequent tour. On 4 September 2020 they revealed the result of an impressive collaboration among a notable number of artists from outside-the-mainstream territories: a studio release, a collaboration recording and a double live album.
staraya derevnya belongs to the category ‘something like you’ve never heard before’ for two simple reasons: a fantastic ability to use surrealism for creating narrative, and a sort of symphonic orchestra’s talent and discipline which makes the tremendous amount of work put into composition, rehearsals and performance to be impeccably delivered, in studio or on stage.
The studio album’s title is a sentence: Inwards opened the floor. It suggests an upside-down magic house, or a bewitched basement that is now upstairs. Or both. In any case, the album tell its stories from the title, and continues to do so in seven journey-like compositions, each of them sounding very much like acts of a theatrical dream, delivering a soundtrack for a play, but where the soundtrack is the play.
To the multitude of instruments and object used in this creative experience of thoughts, fears, hopes and dreams, staraya derevnya adds one more: the language. No matter if it’s Russian or a made-up Dadaistic idiom, the singing is making use of any known prosody element to convey emotions: pronunciation, intonation, rhythm, tempo and flow, in any possible manner: singing, speaking, blaring or whispering.
The mix of avant-garde styles, sounds, hypnotic undulations, momentum manufactures are elements skillfully used in the new-psychedelic scene, both in ambient performances or in more vigorous acts. staraya derevnya found an enchanting recipe for a perfect potion. Even when multiple layers entwine, the rhythm doesn’t drift away and the sound stays clear and distinct. And just like in a dream, everything weaves sense, as real as it gets. As they don’t just use layers, they use coats, sheets, films, covers which they reveal in locked and unlocked movements. The overlapping is an instrument. The sound manipulation is an instrument. For example, the use of a radio-like bad reception effect does not fade the meaning. On the contrary, it increases the suggestion of entering another dimension that has been there all along and only now it is revealed.
Live album “Oto / Tusk” – The double live album consists of two versions of the same three song-set, performed at one day distance from each other, in Cafe Oto (London) and at Tusk Festival (Newcastle upon Tyne) back in 2017. It’s a wonderful listening experience of two live pieces side by side, probably the closest experience to following a band to their gigs two days in a row. Each piece has its own unrepeatable textures dictated by the venues’ here-and-now.
The Cafe Oto performance can be also watched on the band’s youtube channel (or here). And there’s an additional element there, which contributed to the unique mark of these events: the live digital painting, under the signature of Danil Gertman, who is also signing the studio album cover art.
staraya derevnya’s 2020 immersive experience is completed with ‘Still life with apples’, a set of two improvisations recorded with Hans Grusel’s Krankenkabinet, a wizardry of deconstructing, reassembling and mixing electronics, ambient and more classical sounds into highly enjoyable surrealist settings and electronic landscapes.
Perhaps I should end my review with something I could have started with. For example, if you google staraya derevnya, you obtain two results: the Staraya Derevnya metro station in Saint Petersburg, and the staraya derevnya band. One of them may have found a way to inverse the down-the-rabbit-hole falling: with an inward-opening floor. Some may call this bizarre. Others, exceptional free improvisation krautfolk.
- Gosha Shtasel – objects, toys, percussion, cries and whispers, marching band kazoo /
- Ran Nahmias – silent cello, theremin /
- Maya Pik – synths, melodica, rocking chair, flute /
- Grundik Kasyansky – feedback synthesizer, objects /
- Amos Ungar – dulcimer, sampler / Tom Wheatley – double bass /
- Lior Lerman – cries and whispers /
- Maria Blatstein – piano /
- Andrea Serafino – drums / Yoni Silver – bass clarinet /
- Radio interference by Jonathan Shohet and Matthias Moos
Lyrics are based on the poems by Arthur Molev
First track from the staraya derevnya album “Inwards opened the floor.” (Raash records, 2020)
Digital drawing by Danil Gertman
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