venerdì 22 febbraio 2013

LAIBACH - "OPUS DEI" (1987)

Not necessarily the most beautiful, but probably the most important industrial music album of the 80s. 

Being the most famous Yugoslavian band among Western listeners, Laibach doesn't need particular introductions. Their aesthetic - reminding both Nazism and Italian Fascism - was so extreme, provocative, and ambiguous that they were banned all across Yugoslavia from 1983 to 1986. "Opus Dei" is the album that marked their return to Slovenia, their first commercial success, and their first approaches to melodic songs (composing their owns, but also covering international pop hits). They did not sing in their native language, preferring German and English.    
Laibach's self-penned tracks are really good (i.e. "Leben-Tod", a powerful industrial march, and "Trans-National", with its dancing vortex of samples), but what makes "Opus Dei" so brilliant is its overwhelming power to decontextualize existing songs. 
"One Vision" by Queen, transformed in "Geburt Einer Nation", sounds as an hymn to the Aryan race, with these martial rhythms, bombastic synths and brass, and harsh German declaiming. The fact that the band was composed by Slavs in its entirety makes it even more grotesque. 
A candid song such as "Life is Life", originally performed by Opus, is re-worked in two versions, "Leben heißt Leben" and "Opus Dei", both now sounding as a colossal apology to military life.  
This is nothing less than sheer genius, it makes you feel amused on one side and teased on the other. At that time, both anarchists and totalitarists were pissed off by this music, and that proves Laibach's unquestionable power more than anything else.

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mercoledì 20 febbraio 2013

ODDZIAŁ ZAMKNIĘTY - "ODDZIAŁ ZAMKNIĘTY" (1984)

This is Oddział Zamknięty's debut album. Recorded in a number of different sessions between in 1982 and 1983, with singer Christopher Jaryczewski and guitar player Wojciech Łuczaj-Pogorzelski as the only constant members, it has sold 250.000 copies in just one year, and generated a bunch of Polish rock classics.

It's hard to understand their music style, as the band liked to jump over the barriers: "Obudź się" is a power ballad in the wake of Lynyrd Skynyrd, "Twój każdy krok" is a dynamic reggae-rock hybrid, while "Ten wasz świat" and "Andzia i ja" are a sort of evoluted punk-pop songs. Nonetheless, you will notice that the album sounds surplisingly solid, because of the constance of its guitar sound, a not-so-heavy metal flavour which the band managed to adapt to every situation they faced. 

P.S. I've added two important bonus tracks: "Świat rad", released as a single in 1983, and its B-side "Kto tu mierzy czas".

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lunedì 18 febbraio 2013

KINO - "ETO NE LYUBOV'" (1985)

Kino was still a duo at the time of this third studio effort, with Viktor Tsoi and Yuri Kasparian as the only effective members. Alekséj Víshnya is the producer and drum machine programmer. Aleksandr Titov from Akvarium plays bass guitar for the second consecutive album, but it's hard to consider him more than a sideman, as he played all his parts here in just one day.

This is Kino's jangle-pop record, heavily influenced by the Smiths on both guitar style and vocal performances. I don't consider it among Tsoi's most personal works, but it is an important step in his discography, with songs such as "Ver' mne" and "Muzyka voln".

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mercoledì 13 febbraio 2013

PLAVI ORKESTAR - "SOLDATSKI BAL" (1985)

Guided by Saša Lošić (vocals, songwriting), Plavi Orkestar is one of the most famous Bosnian bands. This debut album was the first blockbuster of a long career, with sales between 0,5 and 1 million copies (depending on sources). 

Despite being enormously popular, Plavi Orkestar is not the most acclaimed band among music critics and alternative rock listeners in Yugoslavia: they were not included in the YU 100 albums chart, and they only reached no. 97 in the B92 Radio songs chart, just to name the two biggest polls about Yugoslavian rock music. 

I think their bad reputation is due to the big amount of awful, plastic-sounding music they have been producing since the Nineties. Nonetheless, their first two albums are brilliant, and I keep them in high consideration. It is a quite simple formula: a metallic, loud drum sound; sharp electric guitars which mixed post-punk style and oriental impressions; a couple of melodramatic acoustic ballads; powerful vocal tunes strongly influenced by Balcan folk music. 
This album contains some of the catchiest melodies I've ever heard. Listen to it just once, and you wouldn't be able to get most of these tracks off your head. The first side in particular is impressive, with "Suada", "Medena curice", "Odlazi nam raja", "Gujo vrati se", "Šta će nama šoferima kuća", and "Bolje biti pijan nego star". It sounds like a greatest hits of Yugoslavian folk-pop!

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domenica 10 febbraio 2013

KINO - "NACHAL'NIK KAMCHATKI" (1984)

Kino is probably Russia's most famous rock band, surely the most idolized. They were formed by Viktor Tsoi (vocals, guitar, songwriting) and Alexey Rybin (guitar) around 1981-82. 

I will not post "45" (their debut album, self-released in 1982) because it is basically an acoustic folk record with poor arrangements. It is nice, but not as interesting as their later efforts.

"Nachal'nik Kamchatki" is the second album. By the time of the recording sessions at Andrei Tropillo's home-studio, Rybin had left the project, replaced by Yuri KasparianBoris Grebenshikov from Akvarium was the producer.
Grebenshikov had a strong impact on Kino, as he persuaded Tsoi to arrange his songs in the new wave style (Grebenshikov was a fan of both David Bowie and Gary Numan, owning all their records on illegally imported copies. ***Please remember that rock music was not officially approved in USSR at the time: Russian rock bands themselves released albums through home-made cassettes and magnetic tapes***). 
One of the dominant instruments on "Nachal'nik Kamchatki" is a little toy-keyboard called Kassiotona, you can hear it on eight songs out of thirteen, along with gentle electric guitars, post-punk bass lines, some saxophone, and a rudimentary drum machine.
The production is way inferior to Akvarium's albums of the same period (Kino was still an underground act with a small budget), but the arrangements are adventurous and the songwriting is outstanding. 
Viktor Tsoi's voice and his infective tunes lead the way through this anthology of little new wave gems, where you can find titles such as "Trolleybus", "Trankvilizator", "Kamchatka""Progulka romantika", and "Posledniy geroy"None of them had a great impact at the time, but the latter was re-recorded two times, as a jangle-pop number in 1986, and as a bombastic post-punk track in 1989. Today it is one of their most popular songs.

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giovedì 7 febbraio 2013

AKVARIUM - "DETI DEKABRYA" (1986)

"Deti Dekabrya" (transl. "December's Childen", an homage to the Rolling Stones) was not Akvarium's most successful album, but it was surely one of their most important, as it represents a necessary step in the evolution of the band. It is characterized by a surprisingly hi-tech sound, which the band applied to both popular and experimental styles of rock music, demonstrating once again its eclecticism.

The album is stylistically fragmented, but this doesn't affect too much its power, as it contains some of the best Akvarium songs: "Zhazhda" is an industrial march full of metallic sounds and electronic noises, "Sny o chem-to bol'shem" and "Kad Goddo" are two massive ballads with melancholic keyboard sounds, "Tancy na grani vesny" is a new wave minor anthem with some amazing rhythm guitars interplays. On the opposite pole you will find "Derevnya", a celtic fok number with tons of sound effects, and "Deti dekabrya", a sweet acoustic lullaby.

This album marked the departure of Aleksandr Lyapin (who plays guitar only on two tracks), and the return of Sergey Kuryokhin (absent on "Den' Serebra"), whose synthesizers dominate the first half of the tracklist.

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venerdì 1 febbraio 2013

AKVARIUM - "DEN' SEREBRA" (1984)

Produced once again by Andrei Tropillo, "Den' Serebra" is the seventh studio album by Akvarium. 
On a first listen, you may find it less experimental and peculiar than "Tabu" or "Radio Afrika", but if you pay more attention you will be conquered by the solidity of these folkish arrangements and nice tunes.

Some of my favourite moments here are the celtic-style chant of "Ehlektrichestvo", the jazz hybrid of "Glaz", and the epic ballad "Nebo stanovitsya blizhe", one of Akvarium's most appreciated songs (it is still the core in many of their concerts today). 
Aleksandr Lyapin plays some of his finest guitar parts on this record, and Boris Grebenshikov in person considers it the best album ever released by his band.

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