New Russian Music: Mana Island’s perfect pop, the return of Cheese People and Kung Fu from Xuman

Continued column devoted to the actively growing domestic independent music scene, the responsibility of whose content has been taken up by the public, with the very obvious name of “NEW NOW AND HERE

Mana Island – Bitten (If You Say So)

Last week’s most resounding premier was the first single from Levin, the long-awaited debut album from the Moscow group Mana Island. Last year, the guys released several brilliant singles and received so many advances, that the question of their imminent rise to the Big Leagues was not to be debated – all this before Mana Island began their rapid rise to the top. As of today, there remains only one mystery: how exactly will they do it?

Their first single partly answers the question, and this is where it gets really interesting. While all the leading music media guys are warming up a place for them in between Tesla Boy, Pompeya, and On-The-Go, they are reaching higher. Their first publicly published track Bitten (If You Say So) sounds relatively comparable to Glass Animals, Years & Years, or Ryan Hemsworth. Intuition tells us that the rest of the tracks from their upcoming album won’t find themselves below their currently given place.

Of course for the moment, Mana Island are in no hurry: ahead is a long and interesting road, and right now the most important thing is to not be banal and burn out. But the seasoned listener will understand right away, that before us is absolutely cosmopolitan music without any hints of time or place. It has no boundaries and is open to this big world. The ball is in Pitchfork’s and Stereogum’s court.

Cruel Tie – Babel

Not too long ago, they were called All Tomorrow’s Parties and were living in Tashkent. Before recording their killer EP by the same name, Cruel Tie, changed not only their moniker but their town as well, as they can now often be heard playing in Moscow. And hear them you definitely should. The quartet’s fresh EP shines with energy, strikes like a bolt, and stings with sharp guitar riffs. In 2015, this is the best release in alternative rock’s territory that we have heard thus far.

Cruel Tie glide on the thin ice of clichéd genres, managing to spin about on pirouettes, where all the others clumsily crash down through the water. With each new musical phrase, the likes of QOTSA, System of a Down, The Dead Weather, The Cure, RHCP, Audioslave, Placebo, Ghinzu, and The Horrors spring to mind. It seems as if this is it – here is where we can grab them by their tails – but then they are gone. They blend organically into the fabric of music, the likes of which has been performed by your favorite bygone heroes. They continue to develop their ideas, growing all the way up to the ranks of a truly original group – one that doesn’t play rock, but speaks its language, all the while, telling us something which has not been said before.

Xuman – Kung Fu

The premier of Xuman’s new album was already up on Метрополь (Metropol) on March 10, so it is unlikely that we can report something new. But to express our awe towards The Mask Gains Over Man – a transcendental quality of work at the intersection of indie rock and electronica – nevertheless needs to be acknowledged.

In their sixth year of existence, Xuman are pushing up to the ceiling. Their sound is loud, ingenious, and utmost convincing – in other words, a hit. Frontman Sasha Xuman is once again unable to escape the comparison to Dave Gahan, but considering all the vocalists who find themselves unwillingly in the dense shadow of Depeche Mode’s leader’s popularity, he is definitely one of the best. It’s not just him, but the other members of Xuman too, who are all easily escaping that clumsiness which usually follows many of synth-pop’s adapters throughout their careers.

Instead of the unceremonious bass, marching rhythms, and a timely chest-thumping patter there is falsetto, pop hooks, layered synthesizers, and a complex rhythm section. The realest kung fu is a high art, mastered only through years of practice.

Mangiare – Been Down

Under the guise of Mangiare you will find singer/songwriter Anton Andreev, a Russian artist living in Boston. In the summer of last year he released his debut album Meat, absorbed in all the varieties of mostly American music: hip hop, peppy guitar rock, funk, and electronica.

A few days ago, Anton released his new spring single, in whose recording, soloist Dasha Avratinskaya also participated. Their collaboration Been Down is oriented towards dancefloors of euphoric indie pop with a nod to Foster the People.

Cheese People – Sacrifice

After a relatively quiet period, the now-veterans of the local indie pop scene return: Cheese People, from Samara, who once endeared us with their acoustic performance of Iggy Pop’s I Wanna Be Your Dog, as if playing to us from the front yard of our building. Since that time, the tide has turned a bit and as of today, Cheese People is completely different. Solid, serious, and distinguished. And that’s the way their new single Sacrifice sounds: with unhurried speed, intriguing bells, emerging gradually into the vast expanse of Cheese People’s previously alien rock-pathetica. And so, this calls for a new song. The group’s vocalist, Olya Chubarova reveals, “Sacrifice is a story about a warrior – the one who makes their own way, despite the Godly powers which stand in the way.”

Zzara – Girl in the Dark

Let’s shift a bit to the near abroad. Zzara is a performer from the city Almaty. The good-fortuned network of audiophiles have already dubbed her as the “Kazakh FKA Twigs,” although we still can’t figure out how one could recreate the young sound of Britain’s “fashion miracle.”

Zzara meanwhile creates high quality girly dark-pop that began to be propagandized even before FKA Twigs by Charli XCX, and is today being developed by the Dutch-Spanish singer Sevdaliza and Ukrainian-British duet Blood Twins. As is common from such detached, free-formed, and painfully stylish music, it is always written and performed by models. So maybe the parallels to FKA Twigs lie on an entirely different plane.

Returning to our heroine, it is important to note that Perplex is her first EP. Zara Beisembaeva (that’s Zzara’s name) baffles us with the sound quality of all five of her presented compositions. It seems that all is not so simple with this girl. The arrangements have been precisely measured. Some tracks are on par to the global level of folktronica, with Eastern melodies and a technical tribal beat. The others – mixed as garage, dubstep, and trip-hop aren’t limited by their potential just like all the previous compositions of today’s playlist.

Phacowboy – Like a Sapphire

The ever-present ghost of Radiohead which hovers over all (and ours in particular) young musicians of the world, often puts observers at a standstill. One really wants to avoid such comparisons, but more often than not, a more appropriate likeness is nowhere to be found.

In this review, the group Videatape should be present, who just last week presented their wonderful album Tree of Lies – a recording in the same vein as the creations of Thom Yorke & co. But the guys haven’t yet bothered to upload their release onto Soundcloud or Bandcamp. Perhaps they will read this and get to it.

But a holy place is never empty. Today, Videatape’s niche is occupied by the Russian-American trio Phacowboy. Not without success, they compose melancholic IDM with vocals, growing from one song to the rest on Harrowdown Hill with a light touch of Nine Inch Nails and a heavy breath of German future-pop.

Ext – Output

Behold the healing power of the bassline from Simferopol’s producer Sergey Mogilevsky, working under the moniker ExT. Output is his newest and best release as of today. The dramatic, sweeping track from ExT was noticed by the guru of future-garage, Kastle, and who without hesitation, signed his release through his label Symbols.

By the way, on January 1st of this year, ExT released an excellent full-length album (as well as a limited edition of audio-cassettes) called One of the Moments. The release prompted positive reviews from foreign blogs such as Do Android Dance and Booms and Claps. Sergey’s music is deservingly being compared to that of Burial. Some parts are almost completely identical.

In light of this situation, it is Output that allows ExT to confidently take a step into the direction of finding his own unique sound.

Quok – Imaginary Places

This album was sent to us by the same guy who, for this column’s last release, recommended us the LP by Jan Amit, a young producer from Moscow. We’re not sure of the exact relationship between these artists, but Quok also tags his music with #lovetronica and claims to be one of the headliners of our highly beloved electro-experimental festival, Абстрасенция (Abstrasention).

Interestingly enough, the record Imaginary Places came out on Roman Litvinov’s label (in case of reference: Mujuice) Acid Pop, where the owner himself initially planned to release dirty, loud acid house, like his last year’s Dirty EP. Music from St. Petersburg’s Quok isn’t dirty or loud at all. These are melancholic beauties, glitchy, microfunk, and ambient – the ideal recipe for electronica that is both stylish and intelligent.

Playfulfingers – All Get Down

Pay attention! Right before our very eyes, one more young star from the electronic scene is being born. Vlad Artugin is only 19, but he is in a rush to conquer audiences with his music. The track All Get Down is practically the first of his discography as it is the debut single off his upcoming album Playfulfingers. In terms of mood, it is reminiscent of The North Borders album by Britain’s Bonobo, but level-wise of course, much lower.

Regardless, however, this guy’s got his sound and he’s got the understanding of how to correctly create a composition, evolving it creatively. In terms of producing glitchy textures, the artist is not particularly inventive, but we are not the Warp label here – our deal is to introduce new, unknown names. Let us hope that for now, we have done our duty.

Original article can be found at

Published by Blue Bardot Music

From Russia With Music

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