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(46:14, Altrock Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Pukhow 3:43 2. Dear Kontrabandist 6:28 3. Wet Moss 1:49 4. The Mourners 1:19 5. Closed Case 7:36 6. Ariel’s Last Dream: Birobidjan 5:20 7. Horse Army 5:29 8. Condemended 10:47 9. On Tuesdays 3:41 LINEUP: Vitaly Appow – bassoon, saxophone Cyrill Kristia – violin Maxim Velvetow – guitars Nikolai Gumberg – drums Dmitry Maslovsky – bass Anna Ovchinnikova – cello Olga Podgalskaja – keyboards; vocals
Prolusion. Hailing from Belarus, RATIONAL DIET is a group of young musicians who gathered together for the first time in 2005. “At Work” is a follow-up to their self-titled debut CD from 2007, both the outings having come from the precincts of the Italian label AltrOck Records. Previously a sextet, this time the ensemble arrives as a septet with five original members and two newcomers of the fair sex on board. These are cellist Anna Ovchinnikova and keyboardist / singer Olga Podgalskaja who additionally appears to be one of the primary masterminds behind the recording – along with Cyrill Kristia and Vitaly Appow.
Analysis. Only some fifteen months have passed since the release of Rational Diet’s excellent first CD and yet the band is already back, with an even stronger output (no recitatives here for a start). Neoclassical music and Rock-In-Opposition are both at work almost throughout this album, also, but nevertheless it comes across as being somewhat closer to the latter idiom: perhaps because it for the most part sounds denser than its predecessor on half of the tracks of which a rock component is nearly absent, as those have very few drum-related parts in their arrangements. What also differentiates the hero of this occasion from the group’s debut effort is a stronger ensemble playing (here, all the musicians take part in forming the arrangements, without having an acoustic guitar as an axis for their patterns), but particularly so Olga Podgalskaja’s vocals which, in turn, generally set ‘new’ Rational Diet apart from other units of the chamber rock genre. In contrast with the modal, declamatory and other ‘non-conformist’ vocal styles that we meet with in Henry Cow, Etron Fou Leloublan, Absolute Zero and, well, too many other RIO and related acts to list here, Olga sings in a classic operatic fashion, her – in all senses incomparable – soprano perfectly suiting the music as such. The only connection I find with Olga’s singing is Emily Hay’s (from U Totem), though even then only in terms of warmth, so to speak, but not in delivery, for sure. Originality seems to be generally regarded as of paramount importance on this recording, so I shall be very careful when trying to give you readers an idea of what you can expect from it. Think of a cross between Univers Zero’s self-titled debut, “Strange Attractors” by U Totem, Igor Stravinsky’s “Firebird” and Sergey Prokofiev’s “Peter & the Wolf” but only with taking any of the artists and creations named as relative reference points. I won’t list all eight of the compositions that overall fit the idiom described in the beginning of the review and will only note that most of those consist predominantly of full-band / full-blown arrangements, revealing few soft acoustic intermezzos along the way. Where you’ll get the purely chamber stuff, say, in all its glory is on the two concluding pieces or, to be more precise, during the first half of Condemended and all over its follow-up, On Tuesdays. Taking the seventh position, Horse Army is the only piece that has an overtly improvised solo which, though, is rather brief and is in fact the sole saxophone outburst on the album. The shortest cut in the set, The Mourners, is the only one that completely falls out of the prevalent musical picture: a slow, moody, interplay between organ and guitar defying precise definition. In terms of complexity and – to a certain degree – arrangement as well, most of the recording evokes classic Belgian RIO. However, there are relatively few hypnotic, basically repetitive, moves here and are, instead, plenty of those that, to put it briefly, instantly bring me back to some XX Century classical composers, most frequently to the above-named ones. Furthermore, while the music is dramatic overall, at times distinctly so, it is rarely as dark and disturbing as that by most, if not all, of the afore-hinted school’s representatives, and is never sinister. Either way, this is an astonishing effort, highly complex and achingly beautiful alike. With the exception of The Mourners and – in some ways – On Tuesdays, each of the compositions constantly evolves, now subtly, now sharply changing its overall outlines, revealing plenty of innovative and ravishing musical ideas which are fortified by the musicians’ excellent command of their respective instruments (see lineup above for specifications), the vocals included, of course.
Conclusion. What can I add here save some banalities which logically arise from the review as such? This is one of 2008’s very best releases – by one of the best modern progressive rock bands. Welcome to my chart again, Rational Diet: its gates are always opened widely for such truly creative artists as you.
VM=Vitaly Menshikov: March 12, 2009
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