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Little Tragedies - 2007 - "Chinese Songs Parts I & II"

(142:13 2CD / MALS Records)


Prolusion. LITTLE TRAGEDIES was formed in Kursk, Russia, by composer Gennady Ilyin in 1994. The current line up was in place 6 years later, and the band has released several critically acclaimed albums since then, with the 2006 double album "New Faust" arguably being the highlight of their discography so far. Their 2007 albums "Chinese Songs Part 1" and "Part 2", although released as separate albums a few months apart, is seen by this reviewer as a whole release rather than two separate entities, and will be reviewed as a whole. Interestingly enough the label MALS seems to have the same view, despite not releasing these two albums as a double-CD. Related reviews: here, here, here, here and here.

"Chinese Songs Part 1"


1.  I’m Sitting in Front of a Full Cup Not Drinking 4:34
2.  Absorbed in My Thoughts 7:21
3.  Sitting Carefree in the Shadow of the Pavilion 7:37
4.  At the Window 4:32
5.  There Came an Unexpected Guest 10:24
6.  Wanderer 13:07
7.  Do You Remember How We Said Goodbye 4:02


Gennady Ilyin - keyboards; vocals
Oleg Babynin - bass; vocals
Alexander Malakhovsky - guitar
Yury Skripkin - drums
Aleksey Bildin - saxophone
Analysis. Little Tragedies describe itself as a band influenced by ELP, without trying to copy or replicate that specific sound. Although the musical output at times has sounded a bit too like their main influence, according to the band’s homepage this seems to very much have become history only by the time they recorded "Chinese Songs Part 1". Influences from classical symphonic music and Russian folk music are now elements in the compositions, and probably due to the thematic lyrical side of this album, Russian translations of ancient Chinese poetry; some touches from what sounds like Chinese music add some spice to these tunes in places. In addition, influences from new age composers like Vangelis and Gandalf or others making similar music are important elements on this album. I’m Sitting in Front of a Full Cup Not Drinking opens in a lush and mellow manner, a dreamy tune with dark and ominous sounding undertones given release in a hard rocking 30-second-long symphonic prog segment towards the end, and then returning to the new age inspired style for the last 15 seconds. Absorbed in My Thoughts continues in a more dramatic manner, an energetic and pace-filled composition with hard and heavy guitars, massive layers of synths and keyboards and lots of soloing. Some mellow moments are inserted, in particular for the parts containing vocals, but hard symphonic prog dominates the piece. Sitting Carefree in the Shadow of the Pavilion is the second composition exploring a lush, mellow and ambient soundscape. This time around, more distinct influences from classical symphonic music are noticeable, and a dominating feature of the song are what appear to be influences from Asian and Chinese music. The skilled use of percussion as well as wind and sea sounds is added to the mix also, creating a highly compelling and hypnotic atmosphere. At the Window continues on a different note entirely, a playful tune with influences from folk music and groovy sax playing as dominant features starting and finishing the track. Creating variation and verve is a segment in the middle of the song, with a dark sounding guitar sound underscored by orchestrated licks and a synth solo. There Came an Unexpected Guest clocks in at a bit over 10 minutes, the first of two epic compositions on this album. This is another intense tune in a more purified symphonic progressive style, starting out as a carefully crafted mellow theme evolving into a hard and dramatic sounding song with emphasis on building up dramatic climaxes in the first half, and then a slow build up to a sort of jubilation climax in the second half of the song, which then ends as it started, in a calm, melodic manner. Lasting for a bit over 13 minutes, Wanderer is the second epic on this CD, and yet again lush and mellow is the name of the game, albeit with a different take on this style of music. Never hard or aggressive, the composition is still dominated by dark sounds in many segments, an ominous presence creating tension whenever it appears. Lush but dramatic sounding layers of melodic synthesizers also make a multitude of appearances in this tune, and mixed with a well crafted soundscape that builds up a big and epic mood on several occasions as well as adding some Asian tinges from time to time, and you end up with a song that is highly fascinating despite being mellow and almost ambient in style most of the time. Musical references for this particular song may be artists like Gandalf or Vangelis; touches of both their styles are heard in this tune. Do You Remember How We Said Goodbye ends this album in a manner very similar to how it started: a mellow, melodic start and finish, but this time with a hard symphonic rock segment placed in the middle of the piece and not at the end. This is a very strong album overall, as long as the listener is comfortable with music going back and forth between heavy symphonic prog and dreamy, ambient compositions. Sitting Carefree in the Shadow of the Pavilion and Wanderer are brilliant songs, and the other tracks are all clearly above average in my personal opinion.

"Chinese Songs Part 2"


1.  Letter To My Wife 6:52
2.  In the Moonlight 3:33
3.  My Heart is Sad / Thoughts in Dismay 6:05
4.  Vernal Wind / Road Dust 3:17
5.  My Century’s Events are Worthless 9:23
6.  The Boat by the Lake (Is Only for Three) 11:31
Analysis. "Chinese Songs Part 2" continues in a manner very similar to the first part, mixing mellow, dreamy songs with harder, dramatic symphonic rock tunes. But while the first album came across as a very structured album, the second one is a tad more adventurous and less predictable, and ultimately also slightly more interesting. Letter to My Wife opens with a folk inspired symphonic theme, and explores a plethora of different themes in the close to 7 minutes it lasts, with some parts mellow and atmospheric and others hard, dark and frenetic. In the Moonlight is an instrumental composition, a warm and tender tune that starts out with harmonic acoustic guitar and organ, with synthesizer layers added as it evolves. A bit after midpoint we are returned to the opening theme before synth patterns are add yet again: a beautiful, transfixing track which is my highlight on this part of “Chinese Songs”. My Heart is Sad / Thoughts in Dismay opens carefully with a piano dominated melody and synth soloing, shortly after evolving into a tune where all musicians participate in what still is a calm and mellow affair, evolving towards something more monumental-sounding several times but always returning to a tranquil manner, only towards the end is the composition allowed to have it's final evolution into an epic climax, before fading out into the calmness of wind synths. Vernal Wind / Road Dust is a mellow tune with country tinges, dominated by acoustic guitar and mellow organ, and what sounds very much like a pan flute. My Century’s Events are Worthless is the pure symphonic rock tune on this CD, for most of its length building up towards musical climax sections. Guitar riffs, sometimes gritty and sometimes slick and fast, dominate the soundscape alongside synth layers, organ and piano, and drums are skillfully used to regulate the amount of intensity throughout the tune. Clocking in at eleven and a half minutes, The Boat by the Lake (Is Only for Three) is the only tune of epic length on this album, and in many ways a composition highly similar to Wanderer in “Part 1”. The overall style is mellow, ambient music with a nod or two in the direction of artists like Vangelis and Gandalf, and tension is created by adding dark, brooding synths at the bottom of the soundscape as well as more dramatic sounding synth layers floating above the main melodic layers. This song isn't quite as captivating as Wanderer overall, and the musical explorations stretch out a bit further as well with acoustic guitar and piano in particular given more central positions in the composition. Overall "Chinese Songs Part 2” is a high class release, where the main difference is one less tune on this album coming across as brilliant for me personally.

Conclusion. Followers of hard but melodic symphonic rock will find some really interesting tunes on these two albums; and if you like more mellow new age inspired music as well, chances are high that these two albums will be given many spins. The one element present on both releases that will ultimately affect sales most are the all-Russian vocals, I suspect, as there are quite a few music fans out there who prefer their music to contain either English vocals or no vocals at all.

OMB & VM: May 15 & 16, 2008

Related Links:

Musea Records "Part 1"
Musea Records "Part 2"
MALS Records
Little Tragedies


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