Sunday, May 24, 2009

ERSATZMUSIKA - Songs Unrecantable (Asphalt Tango)

The second album from Berlin's Russian émigrés takes us further into a dark and atmospheric world where post-Communist languor meets arch bohemian East German cabaret. This intriguing band possesses a contradictory sensibility that holds appeal for rock, indie, folk and 'world' fans alike. Off-kilter waltz rhythms meet deep growling Joy Division bass; plucked acoustic guitar, smoky accordion and harmonica mesh with angular Ribotesque clanking guitar; xylophone and percussion knock out subtle gypsy rhythms whilst piano and cello lend a ghostly chamber mood.
Vocalist Irina Doubrovskaja has been described as melancholic, such is the nature of the accordionist's deadpan, part Marlene Dietrich, part Nico delivery (the spirit of Velvet Underground is rarely far from the surface). But there's a dry, wry wit too. The (largely) English lyrics - whilst lacking dexterity - possess an endearing mix of callow Hippy platitudes, a naïve idealism and hints of post-modern absurdism (the band's debut album, Voice Letter, was all in Russian, so this move seems to be a marked attempt to broaden their appeal).
And musically, a nostalgia for the '60s pervades throughout - from those far-out lyrics and the Velvets influence, through a tinge of psychedelia, to a smattering of François Hardy's French yé-yé style on basic, rhythmically unkempt tracks such as '(Psilocybin Panic) It's the Russian Beat'. The off-beat Berceuse is the highlight, a European blues with elongated organ and chopping, chiming guitar figures that wouldn't be out of place on Tom Wait's masterpieces of downbeat Euro-centric Americana Blood Money and Alice.
Knowingly ingenuous, melodically off-key, nostalgically modern, sophisticated and yet always looking at the world through the eyes of innocents; Songs Unrecantable is both a yearning for the past sureties of behind-the-Iron-Curtain mundanity and a reflection of modern-day freedoms and fears. A balancing act pulled off with some aplomb.

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