New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: math-rock

Olga Bell Brings Her Strange, Beguiling Russian Art-Rock to le Poisson Rouge

Krai is Russian for “border.” In Russia, there are seven krais, sort of the equivalent of counties in one of the US states. Those regions and their traditional music inspire the new album, simply titled Krai, by Moscow-born, Alaska-raised art-rocker Olga Bell. All but one of her songs here are completely through-composed, in other words, verses and choruses don’t repeat. The lyrics – in Russian – are a rapidfire mashup of ancient plainchant, folk tales and original, sometimes politically charged lyrics co-written by Bell and her mom, a former Soviet broadcaster. The music is rhythmically tricky art-rock, its indie classical flourishes interpolated amidst long, pensively vamping interludes driven by a kinetic rock rhythm section, with lingering, austere electric guitar, vibraphone, strings, woodwinds and Bell’s own intricately overdubbed six-part vocal harmonies. Bell’s often labyrinthine vocal arrangements employ a lot of close harmonies to enhance the otherworldliness, although she doesn’t use the microtones common to some Balkan and Russian music. Bell and her ensemble play the album release show for this one at 8 PM on April 28 at le Poisson Rouge; advance tix are $15 and highly recommended.

The opening track’s ominous art-rock intro quickly morphs into a Slavic chorale, then it moves back to offcenter cinematics, the vibraphone’s incisiveness contrasting with the opaqueness around it. Bell winds it up with a big crescendo of vocals and then a whoop. Where the first track swoops upward as it gets going, the second swoops downward, with the vocals, a jaw harp, steady bass and a practically mocking high cello line over a quavery, sustained drone that sounds like ebow guitar. Track three, Perm Krai (each title has a corresponding region) has a trickily rhythmic, shuffling trip-hop groove, something akin to Sigur Ros taking a stab at mathrock. The fourth cut, Stavropol Krai has Bell doing a call-and-response with her own multitracks, then the band lights up a spare, sparse theme with jaunty accents from flute and guitar. It ends with what appears to be a sarcastic military march.

Krasnoyarsk Krai, with its icy vibraphone flourishes, dense layers of vocals and organ, is the album’s creepiest track. Zabaikalsky Krai begins as a simililarly eerie bell melody and then works its way through an ominous synth interlude and then hints at a darkly leaping mathrock theme – it’s the album’s most ethereal song. With its weirdly processed keys and vocals, Khabarovsk Krai is the quirkiest, a Slavic dance dressed up as Radiohead.

The final track, Kamchatka Krai sounds like a Russian version of the Creatures, towering walls of vocals punctuated by big bass chords, pounding drums, screechy synth and the occasional swipe from the guitar or electric piano. Who is the audience for this? Maybe fans of Dirty Projectors, with whom Bell has worked extensively. Otherwise, fans of the stranger side of art-rock (and Bjork, and postrock, and mathrock, and accessible indie classical ensembles like Ymusic) will find a lot to sink their ears into here. It’s a long, strange trip.

Break of Reality Bridge the Gap Between Indie Classical and Cinematic Art-Rock

 

Break of Reality occupy a kinetic, often cinematically original space in the center of the postrock spectrum, with the atmospherics of bands like itsnotyouitsme and Victoire off to one side and more rhythmically-fueled groups like Mogwai and My Education to the other. Break of Reality transcend the cello rock label, considering that their songwriting is closer to indie classical or the mathrock side of Radiohead than, say, the lustrously moody chamber pop of Serena Jost or the gothic menace of Rasputina. Saturday night the four-piece band treated a sold-out crowd at Subculture to an eclectic release show for their latest album, Ten, highlighting every facet of their shapeshifting compositions, from their chamber music roots to their current adventures at the fringes of indie rock.

While co-founder Patrick Laird delivered several of the night’s most breathtaking solos and cadenzas, his fellow cellists Laura Metcalf and Adrian Daurov got their share of moments to add creepy glissandos, rapidfire staccato passages, nimble pizzicato lines and the occasional austerely suspenseful interlude. Percussionist Ivan Trevino played judicious, terse, sometimes Middle Eastern-inflected grooves on djembe during the night’s first set before going behind the plexiglass shield to a full drum kit (and supplying piano on a couple of tracks as well) for the second part of the night. He emphasized the group’s dedication to jamming, in this particular instance more of a brave attempt to craft an anthem on the spot than it was about sharing ideas, or banter, or jousting in the way that your typical jamband, or jazz crew, will do onstage.

The quartet opened with hammering circular riffage which gave way to serpentine, intertwined countermelodies and then towering, pulsing crescendos that would make for memorable action film themes. A bit later they brought down the lights for a warmly inviting original arrangement of a Bach cello suite, each cellist getting to pass the baton to the next, the group maintaining a perfectly precise, old-world wide-angle vibrato. Laird wowed the crowd with a knottily tuneful, Appalachian-tinged solo piece written by Turtle Island String Quartet cellist Mark Sommer. After that, the group hit a peak with an anthem from the new album, Light the Fuse, which Laird explained was inspired by the populist response to current global unease. The highlight of the second, generally harder-rocking set, was another new song, Star, following a long trajectory upward to a triumphantly swaying, toweringly optimistic theme before receding back into deep-space lushness and then the hypnotic cross-string motives that opened it. They encored with an older number that blended resonant neoromantic melody with a challenging rhythmic drive, evoking the work of Lukas Ligeti. This perfectly capsulized the ensemble’s appeal: they’re clearly just as at home in the avant garde as they are on a rock stage. Their upcoming US tour kicks off with a free show at Jamfest in Victoria, Texas on April 19.