Eastern Space Cakes compilation (2006)
Lollipop Shop LSCD 06
From Aural Innovations #36 (May 2007)
My friend Henning Kuepper of Berlin sent this promotional compilation of eastern European psychedelic music in to Aural Innovations from his Lollipop Shop. I’ve met him at a few festivals in Germany over the past five years, as we share a passion for the "Budapest" scene and other neighboring lands. So he’s rather preaching to the choir in this case, as I already know (via album or on stage) six of the ten artists included here.
The Magic Carpathians Project is the duo of Anna Nacher and (ex-Atman) Marek Stycynski of Nowy Sacz, Poland. I was lucky to have seen them perform their interesting brand of experimental psych music two years ago in northern Sweden. With a live recording (from Chicago!) of “In the Prison of Mind,” the Carpathians’ contribution is a real gem with echoed sampled guitar, and a host of freakout noises. Oranzada, another Polish export, is new to me, a rock ensemble doing a neo-psych number (“Koszula wspomnien”) like Sundial or On Trial, with lyrics sung prominently in their native Polish. Volga is a Russian psych/folk quartet fronted by Angela Manukjan, and their offering “Pomol” is typical of their brand of traditional folk-chants mixed with modern technology, here employing a kind of tribal electronic beat. Interesting stuff, though I personally favor Deti Picasso's similar ethno-electronic amalgam (see below).
NU, from Romania, I hadn’t heard before – their track “Ezaro” is a kind of free-form experimental piece with voice used as instrument. You can hear more of them on their page at www.myspace.com/projectnu, more interesting experimental stuff akin to Can and latter-day Embryo. Korai Orom should be well-known to any self-respecting space-rock fan. The “hypno-trance” Budapest ensemble, with at least six studio albums and a number of live and remix works already on the books, has also been a festival highlight all around Europe for more than a decade. I’ve been lucky enough to have seen them live four times to date, and have to say that they are one of my favorite live bands of all time. 'ESC' samples the third track from the most recent ‘2005’ album, something that would satisfy the tastes of any Ozric nut out there. And I mean “Out There.”
Uzgin Uver, fellow Budapest natives, perform more experimental folk music, employing wood flutes and violin but also with lots of psychedelic effects and samples, as we hear on “Pallo” from their 2004 album ‘Voros Rebek.’ Trottel Monodream is related (the precursor?) to the Trottel Stereodream Experience, another band I was eager to see live at Sziget ’04 at home in Budapest. To be honest, I was not totally sold on TSE then, but “Fluid,” the long track appearing here on Space Cakes is a real wonder. Very spacey, groove-laden, and delightful, with female space whispery vocals and lots of cool electronics and soaring guitar. I wish they were like this in ’04! I will have to seek out this album of the same name (ie., ‘Fluid’).
We return to Poland for the final three tracks, starting off with “Malfor” by the band Archinta, sounding much like Volga in the psych/trad. folk vein. Frankly, while female lead vocalist Grazyna Jasman’s ethereal vocalizations are initially attractive, the song goes on for the full five minutes without much development and it becomes a little repetitive in the end. Still, I would be interested to hear more from the band. “Glo” is a track by the four-piece Pathman, an inventive kling-klangy work heavy on acoustic guitar and various bits of percussion but not much else. And finally, a sample of the CD full of ‘Landscapes’ by Warsaw’s Asunta, an album I already knew. Part VIII, representative of the album as a whole, is essentially a breathy saxophone solo atop a warm drone backing. Nice tonal flavors, though a bit minimalist for my tastes.
Well, there you have it! But...before we go, let me give a few more thoughts about some other eastern Europe music I've heard about myself (although I think Henning probably carries this stuff at his Lollipop Shop as well). As alluded to above, I made a pilgrimage to the Sziget '04 festival in Budapest to catch several of the wonderful local bands in the realm of "hypno-trance-rock" or whatever particularly stupid label you wish to apply. Korai Orom, Colorstar, and Masfel were the three bands in particular I went to see, but on the premises I discovered several others. TanuTuva were a brilliant Ozrics-style space-trance band, as I mentioned in my Sziget review (http://www.aural-innovations.com/issues/issue29/sziget04.html), and I'm still waiting to find out about there supposed debut CD. Their webpage seems to have oddly disappeared from the SoundFreedom.org site that originally hosted it, so I don't know where to find out more.
Gaya Arutyunyan Korai ÖrömUzgin Uver
But perhaps the most interesting discovery was Deti Picasso from Russia. Lead singer Gaya Arutyunyan is actually ethnic Armenian (I think), so their particular brand of psych-folk (or I guess the Kool Kidz are calling it "freak-folk" these days) relies on some traditional Armenian songs and themes. As I couldn't locate anybody to buy a CD from in '04 (which was upsetting), I still don't have any Deti Picasso recordings, but you can look them up at www.myspace.com/detipicasso and hear some samples. "Merik" and "Ninare," the first two tracks currently on there, are the kind of thing they do most often, very traditional-style folk done with psychedelic effects. But then check out the (current as of 4/07) third track "Shut Mi Antsekh" - Wow...that's some cool psychedelic madness! Interestingly, the Picasso's must have met up with tres-cool Masfel at that Sziget gig, as Arutyunyan is now appearing on their work as a guest vocalist. (That's up now at Masfel's myspace page, linked from DP's, as well...look for "Aerosoul." And pick up Masfel's great 'Angyaltojas' CD at some point.)
So now that's really all I have to say about Eastern European neo-psych music. Having spent some time in Croatia and Slovenia, as well as Hungary, I could see with my own eyes the emerging optimism that continues to explode there! As I cynically tell people who say that the "West" won the Cold War, "I disagree...if the West won the Cold War, why is it that we ended up with such crappy governments led by the likes of Bush II and Blair? Nope, I'll tell you who won the Cold War...the common folk of eastern Europe...for the first time in a thousand damn years, the young people there can look forward to a future free from the brutal dominance by whatever major regional power decided to repeatedly stomp all over their lives, whether it be Istanbul, Vienna, Berlin, or Moscow. Go and visit there, and see (and importantly, hear!) for yourself...perhaps the commercialization and consumerism will eventually ruin everything (as it always does), but for now, the people are still dancing in the streets, celebrating their new optimism and opportunity to better their lives and express themselves. (Some by way of the coolest of psychedelic sounds.) It's contagious. Plus, the exchange rates are wonderful (vs. the Euro, Pound, and Swiss Franc at least).
Photos from Sziget '04 (KHenderson):
Visit the Lollipop Shoppe web site at: http://www.lollipopshoppe.de
Reviewed by Keith Henderson