Underwood (Ундервуд) "Опиум для народа" (Opium of the people)
Grand Records, 2007
Underwood, a group from Sevastopol (Russian-speaking Ukraine), formed in 1995 and relocated to Moscow in 2000 at which point they produced four albums in seven years. Their 2001 debut single "Покуситесь на президента" – Try to kill the president ("Wanna become a state secret?") pokes fun at... Putin.
Take "Рок-н-ролльный возраст Христа" (Rock-n-Roll Age of Christ), which spent months at the top of Nashe Radio’s Chartova Dyuzhina: Душа моя, скажи, что все не даром / Что можно жить и песни петь и щеки подставлять / Опять хорошим людям для удара (Tell me darling that it means something that I can live my life, sing songs and turn the other cheek to good people).
"Товары и услуги" (Goods and services), which in a milder version, went onto Chartova Dyuzhina in early February 2008, is even sharper: Дорогая, я купил тебе хуйню / Хуёвей не бывает и дешевле тоже / А завтра мне пора на войну / Я уйду пораньше, и вернусь попозже... (My dear, I bought you this piece of crap / It couldn’t be crappier or cheaper / Tomorrow I’m off to war / I’ll be leaving early and getting home late.)
Both songs, along with a number of others on the album, are set to old time (American 1950s) rock-n-roll accompaniments. "Goods and Services" takes an additional whack at the fifties by including a line (both music and lyrics) from the 1990 Kino retro-style song Когда твоя девушка больна (When your girlfriend’s sick). The group’s inclusion of one of Russian’s top three dirty words (ху...), especially in such a soft tune, caused quite a stir in the Russian music blogosphere. If, as a teacher, you plan to use the song in class, you’ll have some explaining to do, especially since the radio play version is not available either on the CD or for download.
Underwood’s latest songs are available for free on their site. The album under review can be legally downloaded from www.zvuki.ru. Those who order products on the Internet from Russian sites are advised not to use direct debit cards. Use intermediaries such as PayPal or credit cards with access to limited funds.
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Folk-rocker Pelangea ( Пелагея)
Folk-rocker Pelagea ( Пелагея) has been at the top of the Чартова дюжина charts for nearly a year. Not bad, considering that the audience demographic is 15 to 35 and the competition is from hard rockers like Кипелов. So what draws the audience to someone who does traditional Russian folk melodies in the style of Zhanna Bichevskaya (herself a Joan Baez imitator) from 35 years ago? It's not that Pelagea and her group of six performers have invented a special stylized way of doing folk rock. The arrangements are good, but not unusual. Pelagea's voice is strong but sweet but not extraordinary. And yet therer's something about these simple folk tunes that reaches a wide rock-oriented audience — enough to have propelled three songs to the top of the charts in the last year: Казак (Cossack) Нюркина песня (Niurka's song), and her latest release, Когда мы были на войне (When we were in the war). All are available in fairly decent fidelity (96 kbps) on the group's very complete website, which is chocked full of information about this new and exciting group.
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DDT . "Пропавший без вести" (Missing)
DDT Records, 2005
In rock music, the 1980s was the Russian version of the American sixties. But of the founding generation of rock, few passed into the 21st century intact. Some changed style (Grebenshchikov, Butusov),some receded into the background (Kinchev, Nastya), and some died(Tsoi, Bachlachev). DDT remained intact, changing slowly, but always at the top of the charts with appeal to Russians from 15 to beyond 50. The group is in fact merely an extension of its founder, its only vocalist, and single author, Yuri Shevchuk. Over the last twenty years Shevchuk had been evolving slowly from a poor man’s Vysotsky-styled hard-edged social critic to a softer poet of more personal dimensions. However, in Пропавший без вести Shevchuk returns to his hard edged roots. Taken together, the album is a stinging comment on the direction Putin’s Russia has taken. The title song, one of the only slow and melodic ones on the disc, can be heard as a lament for all those who have been lost to one tragedy or another, although for most Russian listeners the song first and foremost conjures up the war in Chechnya. Other tracks target the failures of post-Soviet Russian society and indeed of the post-Soviet Russian soul. Пропавший без вести is a challenging album. Those who want something more digestible from DDT will prefer their albums from the turn of the millennium. But the fact that three of the disc’s eleven tracks have copped top spots polls like Чартова дюжина , shows that a new generation of DDT fans longs for serious stuff.
Available from RussianDVD.com, Ozon.ru, Legal on-line versions from zvuki.ru. Visitors to the DDT site can download low quality mp3 versions of the album for free. (Those who order products on the Internet from Russian sites are advised not to use direct debit cards. Use intermediaries such as PayPal or credit cards with access to limited funds.)
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Zemfira. " Вендетта " (Vendetta) -2005
If you’re anywhere near my age, there was a time when you sat around with friends deciphering and redeciphering the words to Don McLean’s "American Pie." So it is with the majority of Zemfira’s songs. All but the most fanatic usually give up after a while and declare: Земфира — это просто набор слов (Zemfira’s just a random collection of words). In fact, the cognoscenti can ferret out the DIM (deep inner meaning) of Zemfira’s songs based on events in her biography. Still, the songs are riveting, and Zemfira’s creamy voice is magnetic.
Now along comes Zemfira’s 2005 release ofВендетта , and lo and behold: comprehensible lyrics! But if it’s not one thing, it’s another. Вендетта has a harder, more metallic edge than any of Zemfira’s previous work. It’s not necessarily an improvement. That said, the new album has a lot to offer. Two of the songs were runaway top-forties summer hits: the ethereal Блюз. and electronica Прогулка.
In Блюз, the only somewhat opaque line is И меня моя милиция / заберёт и не подавится — a reference to the fatal stampede in a 2000 concert in Yakutsk that Zemfira herself caused when she invited fans to join her on the soccer field. Zemfira was arrested and then released after she signed some autographs for the cops. Other notable tracks with lyrics even second-year students can get are Так мы оставим (a melancholy If ya can’t fix it, ya can’t fix it), Все такие разные (similar to some Blondie songs), and Итоги , whose lyrics are a bit more challenging, but nothing like some of the tracks on earlier records like Четырнадцать недельтишины .
Zemfira’s newfound clarity comes in the wake of her freshman year as a philosophy major at Moscow State University. Учись , учись и учуись ! .
Available from RussianDVD.com, Ozon.ru, and others. Legal on-line versions from zvuki.ru.(Those who order products on the Internet from Russian sites are advised not to use direct debit cards. Use intermediaries such as PayPal or credit cards with access to limited funds.)
-Recommended by Rich Robin, Culture Club Music Review Editor
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Leonid Maksimov , " Четверг" "Hippotazm"
Real Records, 2001 and Soyuz Records, 2003
Leonid Maksimov is a soft rocker. He started with the Leningrad "beat group" Sekret in the mid 1980s and struck out on his own in the early nineties with periods in Western Europe and Israel. Maksimov’s evolution from his days with Sekret is clearly visible. Back in the 1980s крутые рокеры — hip rockers — found it stylish to put down Sekret as попса — bubble gum pop . But since the turn of the millennium, Maskimov has turned up frequently on playlists for Наше радио, the Moscow-based FM network that has come to serve as the country’s arbiter of what’s rock and what’s not. What is fascinating about Maksimov’s music is how liberally he successfully borrows from the Beatles from Revolver onward and from post-Beatles Paul McCartney. All sorts of Beatles/McCartney tricks cohabit with old Sekret signatures on track after track. The most amazing of the "borrowings" from these two latest albums is Позывные весны (Jingle of spring) from the Четверг album. The idea for thatsong comes from "She’s Leaving Home." The musical and acoustic devices are taken from a good half dozen Beatles and Paul McCartney/Wings numbers.
Maksimov’s popularity in Russia owes itself no doubt because he provides his listeners with familiar ideas wrapped up in pretty packages. A Lennonlike cynic might call them "silly love songs," but there’s no denying that Maksimov knows how to do them. For more information on the artist go to: http://www.leonidov.ru/
"Hippotazm" (Soyuz Records, 2003). Available from RussianDVD.com, Ozon.ru, and others. Legal on-line versions from zvuki.ru.(Those who order products on the Internet from Russian sites are advised not to use direct debit cards. Use intermediaries such as PayPal or credit cards with access to limited funds.)
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Evgeny Bachurin . " Годы застолья "(Years of food and drink)
Артель Восточный ветер - 2002
Evgeny Bachurin belongs to the Modern Bard movement — singer songwriters who came to the fore in the 1960s and flowered on the dark periphery of State approval in the 1970s. The most famous of them, Bulat Okudzhava and Vladimir Vysotsky, could count their fans in the millions long before the authorities permitted the release of a trickle of records in the early 1980s.
Bachurin, born in 1935, was by any reckoning a back-bencher in the 1970s. But he differs from his more well known cohorts in some important aspects. Musically he is more diverse than Okudzhava, poetically softer and more sober than Vysotsky and Galich, and biologically... well, he’s alive and they’re not.
The age of the Internet has breathed new life into Bachurin. Twenty years ago, he had thrown in the towel: Я проиграл эту игру — I’ve lost out , he bemoaned, referring to the wave of Russian rock that swept the bards aside as social commentators during Gorbachev’s glasnost. But a lively web presence has led to Bachurin’s rediscovery.
This disk is a recent collection of mostly older songs with a few recent numbers thrown in. Most Russians know the lead-off track, Дерева (Trees) even if they never knew who wrote it. A rhyming translation would easily pass for a Pete Seeger plea for the environment. The other tracks can be interpreted as lyrical comments on a mid-life crisis, especially Крупица (Clump of ground), Камешком по бережку (Like a pebble along the shore), Я куплю себе последние ботинки (I’ll by one last pair of shoes), and Мы не вольны собой распоряжаться (We are not free to do as we please). Read as poetry without musical accompaniment, the lyrics might have just a bit too much sap. But Bachurin’s masterful tunes steer clear from identifiably Russian modern folk motifs. Whereas other bards set their poems to bare-bones music, Bachurin lets the music carry his message.
For students of Russian, Bachurin, far more than Galich, Vysotsky, and even, I would argue, Okudzhava, serves as an enticing entry point into the Modern Bards movement. His themes are less tied to Russian/Soviet realia of the 1960s and 70s, his music more memorable, and his phonetics clearer.
Plus, he shows that there once was, and still is, something out there besides Zemfira.
For more information about the artist go to: http://www.batchurin.narod.ru/.
Available from Ozon.ru . Most of the tracks can be downloaded legally from zvuki.ru for between 5 and 10 cents apiece. (Those who order products on the Internet from Russian sites are advised not to use direct debit cards. Use intermediaries such as PayPal or credit cards with access to limited funds.)
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Bulanova, Tatyana. Krasnoye na belom
This album is great for anyone who loves catchy music and a great voice. This album is the third in a series that has showed Tanya taking a step away from the style with which she began her career. The music to which she sings now has more of a "synthesized" sound, whereas her beginning work had mostly guitar accompaniments. Although most of the songs are about love and are characterized by a hint of melancholy, a certain sense of optimism is still present. The result is a number of delightful songs that are filled with emotion and passion, for example "Lyudi kak ptitsi". At the same time, all of the tracks have a really good beat and the listener is, therefore, never left feeling bored. Krasnoye na belom can be purchased at either www.rbcmp3.com or www.russianbeat.com.
- Recommended by Anna Pavlitchenko
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