"Original Akvarium" refers to a time rather than a group of people; you'd be very hard-pressed to find two Akvarium albums that feature the exact same set of musicians, though any discussion of a classic line-up would have to include Seva Gakkel's cello, Alexander Lyapin's guitar, Dyusha Romanov's multi-instumental wizardry, and the bass of Fan Feinstein, to name just a few. (Do we even need to say that Boris Grebenschikov is the sine qua non of Akvarium? Probably not, if you've made it this far.) Rather, "Original Akvarium" represents a magical interlude running roughly from their epochal performance at Tbilisi '80—arguably the first nail in the coffin of the Soviet Communism—to Boris' decision to record a solo album in the United States in 1989. You'll observe that all of the albums below are considered nothing less esssential, so, like winter-bathing in the Neva, it's best to take a deep breath and jump all the way in.
New York? London? Manchester? Minneapoils? Please. During the early to mid-80s St. Petersburg, the Russian Babylon, was the center of the Rock-n-roll Universe. Buy these albums and see why.
The first Akvarium studio album. Boris's youthful worship of Bob Dylan is quite in evidence. Contains the perky song named "Chai" which every Russian rock band is obliged to record, plus many inspiring crazy, must-memorize singalongs. The recording is frustratingly murky, but it's still up there necessity-wise. Dzhrew, a "second-tier Dylan fanatic," feels the other gurus need to devote more study. And we do, of course.
Uneven brilliance by wacky artists of primitive rock; think early Velvet Underground with a sense of humor and fewer prescription depressants. Contains "Mochalkin Blues" and "Starik Kozlodoyev," both of which are key songs, plus a great deal of freaky wondrousness and some beautiful guitar-cello-vocals pieces. Worth buying for the jazz piano M. Blues (Kuryokhin is the man) alone, but not a good first purchase.
The once incredibly-elusive companion piece to Acoustics, this is two drastically different electric "albums" in one. The first half is from a 1980 concert in Tblisi that pissed off the apparatchiki and got Boris kicked out of college; the second half is Russkii reggae/ska ala The Police. Both halves form the whole and brilliantly span the whole range of electricity—from a gentle static shock on a dry winter day, to the mad scientist's Jacob's ladder, and from highline hum, to Ben Franklin tying you to an electric cello in a lightning storm.
Their second "let's do an electric album" album. Ranked highly by Bodhisattvas Dzhon and Dzhrew, along with various of Dzhrew's disreputable Far Eastern guardians of culture. Much crunch. Good introductory album for alterna-crunchers from Velvet Underground through Grunge to the edges of Sonic Youth.
If you have to memorize one album… and I don't just mean one Akvarium album.
Worshipful. My first fave. You have to listen through the very occasionally problematic synthesizer (obviously a new acquisition for the boys in 1983) but it's a work of true genius. The "Pet Sounds/Sgt. Pepper" of Russian Rock, Radio Africa sets the "no shift in mode, tone or pattern of imitation is forbidden" precedent that has ruled the best Russian bands and defined the genius of Russian rock ever since. Chuki chuki, banana pukhi.
This is a collection of live recordings from the period when Akvarium was a Band On the Run, playing illegal concerts advertised by word of mouth in the apartments of friends and supporters. Terrific songs more than make up for a sound-quality that is often less than ideal.
A masterpiece, much underrated by those who have not yet attained the Akvarium fan equivalent of Buddhahood. Begins with Boris & his acoustic guitar, adds flute, bass, drums, then shuffles down the road on a guitar/cello riff before vibrating into new territory. It pulsates, it grinds, it throbs, it sings its glories into the faces of the assembled masses.
Controversial album amongst the Gurus. Dji v. The Rest of Them has been in litigation ever since Dji foolishly dissed this one. The record swings from irritating experimentation (theoretically Eno-inspired, but sometimes sounding like "Thriller" two-thirds-unplugged), through 50s-inspired up-tempo blues ("At the Hop, bop, bop, bop.."), through cuckoo birds, through Russia's answer to "8-6-7-5-3-0-9, Jenny Jenny." A record made in the 80s that often sounds like it was actually made in the 80s.
The last (official) live album from the original Akvarium. An excellent record, with crowd noise, energy and enough differences from album versions as well as new material to make it worthwhile, though there is by and large agreement among the Lamas regarding the title track (better version on Acoustics? Yep.)
Their first venture in a "real studio" and the end of their underground period... also the end of the original Akvarium. The album is orchestrated, bassed, banged, flanged, fluted and descanted. Only those who can't stand the Music of the Spheres should stay away (You know who you are: Aroks i Shtyor awaits you.)