Saturday, April 22, 2017

TMW #3 - Eeter

Estonia has a very strong tradition of folk vocal music - singing choirs and the like - which worked as a form of nationalist resilience during the long period of Soviet rule and attempted Russification. Indeed Estonia's breaking loose from the crumbling U.S.S.R. actually involved mass protests known as The Singing Revolution.

                                                                  [pic by Maria Aua]

Several artists at the Tallinn Music Week drew on these traditions, working vaguely Medieval / liturgical  or rustic folk vocals (with a tinge of the country's pagan past - it was Christianized as late as the 13th Century)  into soundscapes influenced by industrial / ambient /electroacoustic techniques and atmospheres. The result is a distinctively Estonian contribution to the tradition of  "ethereal girl" music. The most mesmerising of the ones I saw was Eeter - which as it happens, is the Estonian word for "ether". But it's also quite close to  Eesti, the Estonian for, well, Estonia the country and Estonian the language. Thereby - intentionally? - suggesting a native ethereality to this densely forested country, with its countless lakes, its bogs and fens, and indeed the exterior locations it provided for Tarkosvky's wondrously eerie Stalker.

The trio of Anna Hints, Marja-Liisa Plats and Ann Reimann  use their pipes in a variety of ways - ranging from mouth-music / text-sound / voice-scape effects through to much more diva-like Gothic grandeur reminiscent of Lisa Gerrard - and then mesh that with a mixture of acoustic textures (cawing violin, dulcimer-like glints and tingles, piano) and electronic scrapes, drones, glitches etc. Sometimes you're put in mind of Dead Can Dance;  sometimes there's a faint flavour of Nico's The Marble Index. But the setting through which the voices float is much more ambient and IDM in  feel and provenance.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

TMW # 2 - Glintshake

Probably the most pure entertainment-!wow! of the groups I saw at Tallinn Music Week was this Russian outfit Glintshake.

The video above is the best of the ones I could find on YouTube and it doesn't really convey their force-of-personality live - although you do get a glimpse of singer / guitarist Kate Shilonosova's charisma and her repertoire of facial expressions and hand gestures.

Live, Glintshake was obviously a lot louder and in your face (it was a small space in Old Town Tallinn, astonishingly crammed - there's a big buzz about the group - and hot, steamy, and actually a bit smelly). But also the band's wiry punk-funk sound just jumped and writhed and swerved and sparked so much more. Shilonosova's arch "startled" expressions and steadying-my-balance body-moves conveyed perfectly the feeling of being jolted and tumbled by the music. It looked like she was perpetually skidding on an icy pavement and only just managing to stay upright. (You get a sense of this in the middle bit of the song/video above).

The name "Glintshake" puzzled me a bit and that minor mystery was revealed when I went back to check out their earlier material from 2014, which is shoegaze-derivative both sound-wise and image-wise. Thankfully they seem to have chucked all that in the bin and embarked upon intensive studies of the works of the Fire Engines, Contortions, possibly Big Flame, maybe even Stump. But  all that antipop angularity and friction is sluiced through New Wave aesthetics (little bit of Lene Lovich in the mix, maybe, but without the operatics) and the result ends up very pop: catchy, boppy, fun. 

Kate Shilonosova also has a solo career bubbling away and was given a mini-profile in the New Yorker recently, would you believe.

The approach couldn't be further from  Glintshake -  21st Century hip eclectronica with a pop finish.

The dainty/dinky/airy quality is almost Japanese in sensibility.  Those breathy buttery Sarah Cracknell/Sally Shapiro vocals. Nice, but I much prefer her rolled r's and more jagged delivery in Glintshake.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

TMW #1 - Mart Avi

Recently I was in Estonia for the Tallinn Music Week. Saw a bunch of interesting bands  -  and this is the first in a series (probably) of posts about the ones that caught my ear / eye.

An intriguing performer I saw  - twice! - at TMW 2017 was Mart Avi.


Avi's live presence doesn't fully come across from  the available YouTube videos, but you do get a flavour of his thing, which -  crudely - I would situate as Billy Mackenzie meets Thomas Leer (but if Leer was using today's technology, including voice-processing software).

In some ways it could be a missing "aftershock" from the end-part of Shock and Awe - Euro Eighties neo-glam aesthetics meets modern R&B. I also felt the occasional memory-frisson of Scott Walker circa Climate of Hunter.

The live performances involved backing tapes (shades of Cabaret Futura) and stylized movements from Avi, who was clad in a vaguely Comintern-era raincoat - evocative of private eyes or spies. For one song he had a whole routine involving an umbrella. The voice is big -  really big  - to the point where it feels unlikely that such a billowing gaseous sound could emanate from such a willowy frame.

This is Mart Avi's most recent album Rogue Wave, from late last year.


Chatting with Mart in person (briefly) and via email (less briefly) I came away with the impression of a chap with a lot of ideas behind what's he doing. The promo for  "Blind Wall," for instance, is inspired by his "obsession with rapidity, overwhelming force, "Crash" n glamour, going much too fast - the manifestation of such themes in exquisitely designed vehicles to be precise".  The video is conceived as a response  (or "potential aftermath") to Future's "Poppin' Tags", with a lyrical nod to Gloria Jones (as in she who was at the wheel when Bolan smashed into that tree), all encased in a production-vibe that aims for a "plastic covered in chrome" sound-texture suggestive of "hyper-yuppie-mutant-soul". But unlike with a lot of conceptronica, the thoughtful thoughts don't get in the way of  - nor are they necessary to activate - the seduction effect. 

Here is some of Mart Avi's earlier music.

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