Stuffography Electricity: History of Akvarium, Book 2

Medium

Электричество

Electricity: History of Akvarium, Book 2

Ñòóèÿ Òðèàðèé 1981


Review

by Dzhrew

[Editor's Note: The following review is something of an anachronism, given that Electricity was finally released on compact disc in 1999, and it is has since then even been re-released (2002) with bonus tracks. However, the substance of Dzhrew's account remains firmly intact, even if you, personally, no longer have to go in search of 39th generation copies of decaying Soviet reel-to-reel tapes. Lucky you.]


Warning: This description has some clumsy Dzhrew-generated html that makes it a bit inconvenient if you just want to read the song list and musicians. We apologize for the inconvenience (though he wrote a killer review--read on) and we offer the opportunity to click here if you wish to skip ahead to the other album details.

Mid-1998: Having found pieces of it ("some fuck-up erased part of the tape," said the guardian of the grail), Dzhrew wrote:

What I heard today (it's the next cassette in the tape player —Dzhon's old Hitachi) kicked ass in a major way. Think: reggae, guiro, flute, drum set, clean rock solos. I heard a long version of "Moi drug muzykant," with some mad piano that had me ignoring the hockey. (Later) Russky reggae, totally. Really good.

By now, though, he thinks he's managed to collect most of the album. He offers a full review.



Dzhrew's Full Review Of Elektrichestvo:

Rating— You would be a fool not to buy it if you saw it (for many reasons). Acme.

I spent years looking for this tape in Vladivostok, Moscow, and St. Petersburg. As an electric companion piece to the totally brilliant Acoustics , I was sure that this had to be damn good. We all did. For a long time, in fact, this page reported it as (I'm paraphrasing) "Possibly the Holy Grail of Akvarium stuff."

Every time I sit down to review this record, I pop in the tape, open a blank Netscape page, then the fast electronic guitar (or whatever it is) kicks in on the first song... Distraction sets in, and I end up closing the empty page when the tape is over (without saving changes). It absorbs me; I absorb it. It flows through me, seizes me, abuses me, and spits me out at the end (without saving changes). These songs do for electric music exactly what the songs on "Acoustic [so-called]" do for acoustic music. Aroks i Shtyor is wimpy by comparison.

Boris (or whoever is in charge of reissues) is a fool for not pressing cds of this album. My theory (sorta substantiated by my experiences) is that nobody can find a decent copy of the original—not even The Man Himself—that's why there's no cd. Electricity is no Water Rhapsody—which he allowed to be released despite the fact that it's an embarassment. This, in contrast, is genius.

These recordings should be at least as easy to find as 10 Arrows Maybe he's pulling a Dylan ("Royal Albert Hall bootleg") and refusing to release it until he has something comparable to release simultaneously. BG + Deadushki? Yeah, right. Maybe the album with Tequilajazzz. Maybe. [N.B.: The never-realeased Tequillajazzz/BG collaboration, recorded in 1998, may be a new "Holy Grail" for the uber-Collector now that Electricity is readily available. Let the games begin!-Ed.]

Electricity originally had two sides. Side one was a live recording of a show (shows?) Akvarium gave in Tblisi that our beloved Dji (who is blue in all the paintings) says got Boris kicked out of college. Side two was studio stuff, very reggae-sounding.

Right. I guess it's time for some reviewing.

For an album called "Electricity," instrumentation on the live tracks is at once completely normal, and completely mad. There's the usual stuff: drums, guitar (?), and (loud) bass. Then there's the not-so-typical stuff: a flute (of course), various woodwind sounding things with various degrees of amplification, and Gakkel's cello. Oh man, the cello. Anyone familiar with Aroks i Shtyor et al. is aware that the cello can get pretty "industrial," but here... wow. It's electrified above and beyond, up up and away, "он сказал поехали и махнул рукой." It's everywhere, playing the role electric guitar has played on every album of this type ever recorded. Jimi Hendrix and Yo-Yo Ma team up at a nuclear plant to play be-bop classics of the twelve-tone school (with guest conductor Pablo Picasso).

I put that question mark after the word "guitar" in the previous paragraph because I'm not 100% sure there is a guitar in the live tracks. There are sounds in some of the songs could possibly have been produced by a guitar, but they might as well have been a tape loop, electric tin whistle, or synthesizer. I'm thinking specifically of "Hero" here—Boris's answer to "Sweet Jane," but it works for the rest of it, too.

The live stuff flows from "Sweet Jane" right into "Marina," which is the only version of this song I ever heard where Boris doesn't euphemize that the heroine "охуела," a pretty serious obscenity. The song ends with Gakkel'-mania, in a slightly distant, though fascinating cello solo.

From that, we shift into "-30," which opens with the predecessor riff to "Rock-n-roll's Dead"'s soul. Add a "Mission Impossible" flute, a more cello-y sounding cello (maybe a violin?), and a disco rhythm section—then tumble headlong through half-organized cacophony. This song rocks from the tippy top right down to the grumbling noise subtexture. Good words, to boot: "It's minus thirty, if the announcer isn't lying/My bed's as cold as ice...I don't beg kindness/I don't wish evil/Today I'm again among you/In search for warmth." It's a loud, lonely song.

The rest of the live songs plow through a noisy blues with plenty of madness, the apt UFO sounds of "Flying Saucer," and the harsh energy of "Slice of Life," which starts with Seva Hendrix's purple haze of cello. "Give me my slice of life before I get the hell ooooouuuutttt!!!" They may have been a bit drunk. Just another of my nutty theories.

Then, pow! The show's over. You are a crazed young rock-and-roller in the early 80s. You have just heard a recording of the show that ended BG's higher education. And you okhuyel. This is it, chuvak—the Beatles were pussies. You shake your head rapidly back and forth like a cartoon character (with an appropriate "ay-yai-yai-yai" sound effect) as you snap out of the trance. "Пиздец," you say to yourself as you realize there's more on the other side... You flip the record (or turn over the tape or whatever—I'm being metaphoric here, deal)...

"Ka-chunk, chunk, chunk..." Reggae guitar. Backbeat bass drum kicks in. A winding bass line, 200-bar solos, piano. It's all sparse to extremes. Maybe Boris is pulling a "Dylan's Royal Albert Hall Concert" here. Dylan played two live shows in one night; Boris put two records on the same record. "My friend the musician knows a ton of hilarious stuff/My friend the musician isn't like regular folks." No he isn't.

So right. This studio side of the album couldn't be any less like the live side. Where that was cacophonous, fed-back energy (electricity shorting out your brain, arcing to anything that can catch a spark), this has a reserved, controlled feel (electrons pulsing through your circuits, till you hum with a field so charged....) This stuff is spare, elegant, and beautiful—and undeniably electric.

They could repeat the chorus to "Babylon" a million times and I'd still be singing along the nine-hundred-thousandth time. What a great tune. He may play it in every encore of every show he's ever done, but you have to have a soft spot in your heart for round one. Where did he ever get the idea to record a reggae (or is it ska? or does it matter?) album? Isn't that nutty? But it works. If I'd heard this when it came out it may have saved me from buying all those Police albums that now sit on the shelf more-or-less dormant. And The Police never punctuated a vocal line with crying guitar so lonely you'd think it was a pedal steel ("It Would Be Easier for Me to Sing").

Akvarium has gone through a lot of phases in their sound, playing every type of music from folk to rock to soundtrack to chant. But they'd never put such drastically different, yet simultaneously and consistently cool stuff on the same record before Eleсtricity, and they haven't done it since. Combine this record with Acoustics and you span a range of music that's pretty hard to comprehend. And it's all brilliant.


Looking For This Tape: The Sad Disclaimer

I never exactly found it, so what I am reviewing here isn't necessarily guaranteed to be Electricity. I have yet to acquire one tape that I can conclusively say is the original recording that was originally called "Elektrichestvo" and originally had the cover art pictured in 14 etc. It's nearly impossible to find, absolutely not available on cd at any price. Maybe not available on tape at any price. Beware false bobinas! Dji and Dzhon independently found tapes labeled "Электричество" that had next to nothing in common with the original song list. Though clearly lingham-enhancing, such tapes are to be avoided (or at least re-labeled, to prevent disappointment for future generations). [All of the above, is, of course, now untrue. The cd was released, and, in most particulars, matched the Dzhrew bobina. Dzhrew—Molodets! -Ed.]

My tape seems to be most of the original recordings—I've pieced it together from various sources. What I am missing is:

  • "Arthur" (which "14" suggests is "The Death of King Arthur," that silly Mallory thing that shows up on Radio Silence),
  • "Wonderful Dilettante,"
  • "Who Are You Now"

The recordings I have came partly from one of the dubious "recording studios" of Vladivostok where the first half of the original Elektrichestvo bobina was foolishly erased by some dickhead years ago. The rest of my tape comes from a reliable source known as Lilia. Click here to return to where you were in the review.

On Grammar: Silly Thoughts About Akoustika and Elektrichestvo

Writing this review, I got to thinking. The Russian word "электричество" is undeniably "electricity" in English—a noun. I always thought of "акустика" as an adjective for some reason—as "acoustic." But it isn't, it's a noun, "acoustics." For historical reasons, this page will probably keep the translation of Акустика as "Acoustic," but I thought it was interesting and noteworthy.

I actually think that taken as a pair, "The History of Akvarium, Vols. I and II: Electricity and Acoustics" sounds way better than "The History of Akvarium, Vols. I and II: Electric and Acoustic" (stretching grammar to better reflect the nature of the albums). [Acutally The Bodhisattvas of Babylon did end up making the change many years ago now. Let's hear it for literacy! -Ed.]

Click here to return to where you were in the review.

Dubious Vladivostok Recording Studios

Studio "O'key," where I endured: listening to the very boring, very slimy, very weird (even by Vladivostok terms) young хозяин of the recording studio; watching hockey through the static on the TV; and later drinking "tea" in a sound-tech's repair atelier which was absolutely, 100%, no-free-wall-space covered with Soviet banners (each banner covered with thousands of "molodets" pins etc...).

Click here to return to The Sad Disclaimer, or you can click here to return to where you were in the review.

Reliable Source Lilia

Lilia's not boring or weird. She's way cool, in fact. She's an ecologist. She got me my Canonical Tape Of Ichthyology, which I cherish.

Click here to return to The Sad Disclaimer, or you can click here to return to where you were in the review.
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Having listened to the newly-released CD version of Electricity, in 1999, Dzhon offered:

Tbilisi portion sounds a little cleaner on CD without losing any of its essential strangeness, studio cuts sound much better. Not too much evident dicking around by the remasterer. Different, inferior version of "Marina" than on the Dzhrew bobina. I was tipped off, of course, by the absence of "охуела"—on the CD the line becomes the seemingly ungrammatical "она устала, она надоело." Listening to them side by side, however, they're not even very similar: the one on the CD has a sax and subdued drums, the one on Dzhrew's bobina is much tighter, with more carefully articulated lyrics and louder instrumentation.

Revisionism? There is some couterweighing evidence suggesting that this Marina might in fact be the authentic Tbilisi Marina. The inaudibility of the first line and general raggediness suggests a live performance, and instead of the abrupt break after "Hero" that exists on the Dzhrew bobina, on the CD it's a relatively smooth segue. Will the real Marina please stand up? (The best "Marina," anyway, is on Aroks i Shtyor.)

Apropos of which, I listened to Electricity followed by Aroks i Shtyor, and then repeated the sequence. No contest. Not even close. A landslide. A decimation. An annihilation. AROKS i SHTYOR RULES. I accuse Electricity партизаны of being seduced by its hitherto inaccessibility—if I had gone to the lengths Dzhrew did acquiring the bobina I too might have been blinded to the superiority of Aroks i Shtyor. While Electricity is a fine album in its own right, and no less essential for karmic salvation than most Akvarium albums—and indeed more so than most because of the epochal nature of the Tbilisi concert therein memorialized—Aroks i Shtyor is still your express trolleybus to nirvana. So there. I'm sticking to my guns.


 


Boris Notes

The first (concert) side is a recording of a show in the city of Gori (which, by the way, is Stalin's birthplace) at the circus during the unforgettable "Tblisi-'80" festival. At the start, we were absolutely banned at the festival. Then, later, for reasons unclear, they asked us to play after all, in Gori. We were already black sheep, there was nothing to lose, so all that remained was to hold back on being a smash hit. On keyboards, the Riga composer Martin'sh Braun from the group "Sipoli" that was sympathetic to us (with them, we formed the Tblisi "punk" faction—for that, one Finnish paper crowned us with the honorary title of "The Godfathers of Soviet Punk"). During the "Pig-in-Ears Blues," Dima "Red-Headed Devil" Gusev showed up in the circus arena with a harmonica, unexpectedly joining Guberman. The concert was shot on film by Finns, and the soundtrack secretly copied in Moscow by a Chilean camera technician who was sympathetic to us. Huge thanks to him and to all of them.

The studio side was recorded at Tropillo's during the time when we dabbled in reggae & dub. We managed to squeeze much more than it was supposedly capable of out of Tropillo's legendary effect. Unfortunately, the songs like "Dilettante," failed completely to work on tape (before long, the same thing would happen with "Rock-n-Roll's Dead"). Volodya Kozlov ("Union of Rock Music Lovers"—he can be heard, by the way, on "Poruchik Ivanov" from Triangle) helps us out with guitar on a pair of songs. That happened because Triangle, Acoustics, and Electricity were recorded simultaneously. Which song we recorded at any given moment depended solely on our mood. Aleksandr Kondraskin played drums everywhere (everywhere except "Wonderful Dilettante"). We'd heard him at some kind of jazz-avant-garde concert and happily asked him to play with us. There were some times when we even rehearsed at his house.

Akvarium rehearsals greatly defined the characteristic sound of the group. At our chronically unidentified places for electric rehearsal—in musicians' homes—as a rule the bass was plugged into a radio (it's true we sometimes plugged into the television—unfortunately, not every home has a bass amplifier). The role of drums was fulfilled by whatever household implements were to hand. Typically, a rehearsal would quickly deteriorate into tea-drinking and theoretical discussions of everything under the sun. If someone chanced to remember the harmonies in a song, that wasn't necessarily cause to give up [the discussions]. As a result, the group never played well, but we were friends. That was professionally formulated as the thesis, "Akvarium As a Lifestyle."

I note, not without irony, that that's how everything happens to the present day. Contemporary western science is powerless to explain this anomaly. But as Maik [Naumenko] was fair to point out, you can't defy karma.

Translated from Songs by Dzhrew.