Stuffography Ten Arrows

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Ten Arrows

CD-Triarij 1985


Review

by Dzhon

Aptly named, though whatever the original bobina had, the CD version now boasts шестнадцать стрел; what remains, however, is a spirit of eclecticism that could indeed be ten arrows in ten different winds. It's worth noting up front—as per BG's notes below—that it's more a live-by-necessity album than a concert recording; the group had no access to a recording studio and wanted to capture new songs while they were relatively fresh; therefore, far from being just live versions of familiar Akvarium songs, 10 Arrows also needs to be considered as primary source material. "Hard Coal," "Tram," "Host," "Plantan," "Knocking on the Grass Doors," "Apple Days," and "How Ice Moves" all appear here for the first (and, in some instances, the only) time. Interspersed along the way are some more familiar older songs, including, of course, the eponymous title track.

Things get underway with the brooding, droning "Hard Coal," a cello-driven tone-poem of ethereal fuzziness, lovely and disturbing at the same time. It's a strange, understated, melancholy meditation on love or politics, or possibly both at once, BG at his most lyrically riddling:

If hard coal could talk, it wouldn't talk with you.
Carraran marble wouldn't even look at you.
But you're fighting a war, you're shooting
Across 1,000 versts and 1,000 years.
And I won't answer anything when they ask
How the battle is going.

"Host" mines a similar musical vein, but is, for my money, the better song. Flute, cello and violin intersect and diverge in eerie point and counterpoint, as BG reimagines the Lord of Hosts as simply the ideal host… somebody you'd like to drop in on and share a bottle with, and who, like Motel 6, will keep the light on for ya'. In the history of Akvarium, I see the two songs together as marking a turning point of sorts: after the experimentalism and straight rock-up of December's Children, they seems to be pointing toward the more lyrical sound and religious tone of Russian Album. Both songs are keepers, and both are most readily available right here.

Third up is "Tram," a Dylan-esque excursion in the Blue Album tradition with harmonicas, bongos, and just a touch of the devil…those of us who have lived in Russia have had similar impressions of being on a tram ride to Hell:

When the conductor came on
The speed went over 100.
He didn't even begin to check tickets,
He only asked to take off the overcoat.
In the car it was warm,
And the night reached its end,
And the tram already went beyond the tracks,
Leaving the straightaway for a circle.

As with "Hard Coal," it's a difficult to know exactly where we're heading here: a profound meditation on the nature of Christianity or just some nonsense about being stuck on transport? Whatever. Like Russian transport in general, you just have to go with the flow.

With "Knocking on the Grass Doors" the album enters much more familiar territory, with songs that were to help define the classic period of Akvarium: "Grass Doors" is one of the best, a wistful, funny meditation on love 'n stuff, centered on BG's acoustic guitar and the strings:

Your mother gives me sweet tea,
But won't give a straight answer;
And your father, considering his business,
Considers me a thief.
And in your house there aren't enough doors,
And all the windows are crooked;
So don't cry for me when I leave,
To knock on the grass doors.

"She Can Move," for its part, gears down and funks up the December's Children original, bass thunk-thunk-thunking Violenet Femmes-ishly away. Shake it, you sexy thing, but shake it sloooooowly…but I actually like this version considerably better than the original one; there's something about it that spells LUST in boldcaps. The languid live-version of "10 Arrows" that follows, on the other hand, is justly considered inferior by just about everybody to the Acoustics studio version…Can't win them all. I like the flute solos, though.

"Plane Tree" is another in the harmonica-laced Blue Album mode:

Solemn vows until better times:
I drink to faith in all the nameless gods.
I drink to you, my love, my friends;
I envy your knowledge that "I" means "I."
But a time will come when I'm leaning against a plane tree
The time will come when I'm leaning against a plane tree,
But, for now, it seems to me that it's in vain.

I always think of the song as BG's "Don't Worry, Be Happy," but I have to admit that it could in fact be his "Don't Be Happy, Worry." I think I'll go lean against a plane tree and think about it some more.

Then there's "Crystal Balls," one of those magic Akvarium songs were just everything gels: Dyusha's flute, Fan's understated bongos, BG's voice and guitar, all woven together into Gakkel's tapestry of cello. It hard to see how anybody could think it was anything less than brilliant. This is followed by a heartbreakingly lovely version of "Heaven Is Getting Nearer" from Silver Day: Heaven couldn't get any near than this.

"Coming of the Apple Days" flutters around from apple blossom to apple blossom buoyed by Dyusha Romanov's flute, a pitter-patter of bongos, and a bass hefted well up in the mix. It's the chirpy, happy, sing-a-long-able, Akvarium equivalent of R.E.M.'s "Shiny Happy People." The sooner the Apple Days are upon us the better off we'll all be.

They were talking all night, and I joined with the rest,
But actually I have no idea what we were talking about:
My mind was stuck on one thing only -
How close you were to me.
And I can tell you
What came to you in a dream;
I'm inviting you to work together with me,
Bringing nearer
The coming of the apple days.

Most of the rest is familiar stuff. "Electricity" (again from Silver Day) is a splendid version of the song, perfect for those like me who find the original a little too…errrr…electric. At any rate, it loses absolutely nothing in this acoustic, string-laden translation. We also have "The Work of Master Bo" off of Acoustics—a lovely and languid sort of Buddhist waltz—and "Route 21," an ur-Akvarium nugget from that hazy time before the breakthrough concert at Tbilisi-80, which has BG wearing his Dylan influence on both sleeves...as he does likewise on "How the Ice Moves," which sounds like a another Blue Album outtake, all wailing harmonica and bouncy bongos. "How the Ice Moves" is a fine song—nothing at all wrong with it—but it's probably the least interesting, both musically and lyrically, of the 10 Arrows originals, territory BG has covered often and often before.

Then there's "Fish"...As all Old Bodhisattvas know, versions of "Fish" are as plentiful as fish in the sea, and this is as good as any other, though it's inclusion on so very many Grebenschikovian albums is the kind of mystery Bodhisattvas like to contemplate while trying to achieve nirvana. My theory is that it's a talisman, like some pitcher's lucky sock or jock-strap, that BG trots out to keep a no-hitter of a concert going. There's also "City," the one Akvarium song absolutely everybody in Russia seems to know; the only one where everyone sitting around the shashlyk-fire will know all the words. This is a cruel irony of sorts. Though "City" is indeed one of the songs that first branded Akvarium onto my cerebral cortex, I find that it has held up less well over time than any of the other songs that first drew me in. Besides over-exposure, this may be because it is not in fact a Grebenschikov song at all, but a Grebenschikov cover of frog-voiced songwriter and Auktsion-collaborator, A. Khovstchenko ("Khvost"). At any rate, I find it slightly dismaying that its comparatively banal sentiments should have achieved such ubiquity, while BG's far more brilliant lyrics should remain mostly within the purview of the cognoscenti.

10 Arrows is actually an excellent album for the Akvarium beginner: it has a little of everything—both new songs and old, intimate live recordings along with those performed before full audiences—but it eschews the radical, loopy experimentation that can be off-putting for the inexperienced. (Lovers-of-the-Loopy should go directly to Aroks i Shtyor without passing Go). On the other hand, for the more devoted acolyte, it also boasts six or seven tracks that aren't readily available elsewhere. So what are you waiting for? Saddle up your unicorn and unsheathe your sword of rain. Он чудесней всех чудес.


Dzhrew's addendum: A. Florenskii, one of the dudes in the Mit'ki movement (see the Mit'ki Songs album's details for details) drew the cool cover art for this record. You have to watch those Mit'ki—they crop up everywhere. Definitely a wily bunch.



Boris Notes

The studio closed for repairs (as became apparent later, forever [Duh, 99% of the time, "ðåìîíò" becomes a permanent state of existence. -trans.]), but the songs demanded immediate recording. (Maybe I'm wrong, but it always seemed to me that if a song is written, then it's written for today and pickling it means to deprive it of impact.) So it became necessary to record everything in concert. I regret to this day that we weren't able to record it with synclaviers and sitars, as we had wanted. In place of that, though, there is a lot of Sasha Kussul's violin, and the album is dedicated to his memory.

In general, this was a fantastic lineup—an acoustic sextet, sitting in a half circle on stage and playing whatever came to mind—with the most insane changes in key and tempo—but to die-hards such as these, it was all child's play. An example of this, "Doors of Grass" is played using basically the usual principles, but in a different way. The recording on the album is pure improvisation (for which no one was prepared). But still, everything came together.

This lineup also clicked in a fun way. After Silver Day, there was no concert schedule (we were probably banned again), and we played half-at-home concerts—here with Titov and Kussul', there with Seva, Dyusha, and Fan. For reasons now forgotten, these two factions never intersected. And so it happened that our strange American friends (who for many years had shipped us sacks of Celtic music) decided to celebrate their wedding in St. Petersburg. For that kind of thing, we decided we'd play a concert for them with an unusual, synthetic lineup—basically, everyone together. We played, and it gave us such pleasure that we never again wanted to play any other way. And right away we started to play concerts with that lineup (they must have permitted us again).

Translated from Songs by Dzhrew.