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(56 min, Altrock Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. The Harbinger 5:51 2. Bondman’s Wings 2:24 3. The Incommunication 5:22 4. To Ringfly 3:11 5. A Disappearing Road 4:41 6. The Unpainted 7:57 7. Yesterday Dormant 5:41 8. The Protector 3:22 9. Fear-Dream 3:47 10. Amid the Smoke & Different Questions 6:31 11. Not That City 6:58 LINEUP: Vitaly Appov – bassoon, saxophones Olga Podgaiskaya – keyboards; vocals Andrey Evdokimov – el. & ac. guitars Vyacheslav Piesko – double bass Dmitry Maslovsky – bass Nikolay Semitko – drums Olga Polakova – flute Natalia Malashkova – oboe Anastasiya Popova – violin Sergey Dolgushev – vocals Alexander But’ko – accordion
Prolusion. As the CD press kit says, one of the very best contemporary chamber rock bands, Belarus’ Rational Diet, has changed its name to the FIVE STOREY ENSEMBLE because of some changes in its lineup which, in turn, resulted in the change of its style. “Not That City” is the first fruit of this particular combo (FSE hereinafter), released earlier this year.
Analysis. It’s still Vitaly Appov and Olga Podgaiskaia who are the main masterminds behind FSE too. Of course, anyone should leave it to the musicians whether to rename their group or not, but nonetheless, personally I find that their new music has more similarities than distinctions with that by Rational Diet. Well, I’ll try to describe it as a creation of a completely new outfit. While involving elements of Russian folk music, Chamber Rock/RIO and classical academic music, the album has a strong rooting in the works of the 20 Century classical (i.e. neoclassical) composers, such as Sergey Prokofiev and Igor Stravinsky for instance, yet not sounding derivative of either composer in particular. To put it in a different way, this is classically-oriented progressive music in an altogether different style than many are used to. Instead of merely grafting a few classical themes onto a tune and then jamming, the compositions in hand are structurally more in line with the classical tradition. Themes are introduced and carefully developed; instruments play specific roles in stating themes and providing counterpoint. Chamber instruments (see line-up above) play first fiddle in the arrangements everywhere on the album, while rock ones – guitars, bass and drums – appear not too frequently. All eleven of the tracks here are exquisitely crafted, the melodic complexity well researched, and a wide range of dynamics is deployed on tracks like The Unpainted, The Harbinger, Fear-Dream and the title one (the first two and the last two of which are largely and purely instrumental respectively), despite the fact that, save the former piece (the only real RIO-style track here), all of them are basically slow-paced. Combining the symphonic sophistication of early Art-Zoyd, the intensity of classic Univers Zero and the melodic beauty of U Totem, the compositions develop sensibly and move through various dynamic changes from quiet to powerful, the last two of them drawing a breath at one point as they make room for male and female vocals respectively. The vocals are in Russian, provided either by Olga Podgaiskaia (whose singing is of a quasi-operatic quality and generally superb, she covering four octaves) or Sergey Dolgushev, albeit on two of the songs, Yesterday Dormant and The Incommunication, they sing in chorus. Both of these are also excellent, with strong themes, heavy orchestration and a negligible connection to rock music as such. The style is a sort of Neo Chamber Rock, not too far removed from classic Thinking Plague. Amid the Smoke & Different Questions is the sole track here that is vocals-based almost throughout. However, on its instrumental level it also makes its way through a variety of themes – well, before launching into an over-eclectic jam in its finale. On the tracks A Disappearing Road, To Ringfly and Bondman’s Wings the group slows down the pace and offers light classical-like orchestrations with only chamber instruments in the arrangement, although the former piece ends in what is the only symphonic ambient-sounding move on the album. Finally, The Protector involves congas in addition and is probably a little out of character compared to the other pieces, but remains quite interesting listening nonetheless.
Conclusion. I think all eleven of the musicians involved equally contributed to the album’s success. But with all these excellent musicians, the album’s true strength is its melodies and thematic development. An exceptional level of melodic beauty balanced with subtle eccentricity permeates the writing and arrangements, keeping each of the compositions interesting throughout its length. This is a unique album-masterpiece by a uniquely talented ensemble. For fans of neoclassical music and Chamber Rock, it doesn’t get any better than this.
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