(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Recording review - Mumiy Troll, Vladivostok (2012)

Foreign reflection of western rock delivers a novel sound

Mumiy Troll is Russia's premier pop rock band with a worldwide following. Three years ago, they made their first splash here in the US. Comrade Ambassador (review here) introduced America to their unique Russian rock sound. They followed that up with a tour and English language EP, Paradise Ahead. Their latest album, Vladivostok continues to use English lyrics to reach out to a wider fan-base.

The English translations of their older Russian lyrics are fairly poetic. In interviews, frontman Ilya Lagutenko has talked about the Russian perspective on writing and why it's so vital to choose the right words. Lagutenko has done his work here, because Vladivostok's English lyrics are smooth.

Lyrics are important but the sound is more important for American audiences. Fortunately, Mumiy Troll delivers here as well. The band has a timeless feel that draws on retro instrumental sounds, '70s rock, post punk, and modern dance pop. The music alludes to the stripped down reverb of early '60s pop, but throws in electronic dance beats and synths. Mumiy Troll's pop aesthetic distills each song's essence and assembles the perfect ingredients.

Most of the tracks have a reserved quality. Lagutenko's voice has a weary, detached feeling like Brian Ferry. He also brings a touch of Bowie's Thin White Duke. Listen to Not Tomorrow; the words slip out punctuated with reluctant pauses. The simple guitar strum foundation is ornamented with reverbed fills and celestial keyboard textures. Yuri Tsaler's guitar work captures Johnny Marr's jangly perfection and Sdwig Zvidionny's bass line is a sweet mix of melody and funk. The outro feels particularly Russian. Parts drop out until a clean, lone cello line plays against the beat to evoke a mournful, empty room. The moment lasts few brief measures before the band returns:
Not tonight, not tomorrow
Sun will shine for free
Could I miss you more?
The high energy point is Vladivostok Vacation, which evokes a taste of Gogol Bordello. More than the accent, it's the dynamic of tense verses and proclamatory chorus. Lagutenko's voice is more engaged and Tsaler shows off some fine arena rock guitar work. This offers more of the power that Comrade Ambassador showed in songs like Queen of Rock.

Two tracks, Sleep Rock N' Roll and Hey, Tovarish, rework Comrade Ambassador songs with English lyrics. Hey Tovarish drops the cool intro/outro from the original, but it sounds like they used the original backing track, even down to the same sax fills on the last chorus. Lagutenko's new English lyrics drift from the earlier version's translation. The new lyrics are less ambiguous, so the original idea has more depth, but I like the last lines of the English lyrics better:
Dreams don't get to desire.
No start, no finish
No yin, no yang
No loss.
No pain.
Mumiy Troll's music reflects of decades of Western rock, but all swirled together and mixed with a foreign perspective. This gives the band an intriguing outsider vibe. Combined with Lagutenko's strong personality, Vladivostok delivers a novel sound.

Watch the video for Fantastica, their first single.

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