You couldn’t come up with a more fitting album title for Belarus trio Molchat Doma if you tried. Many great Eastern European artists have alluded to the majesty associated in working with stone. The prodigious filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, in his memoirs, poetically described his craft as “sculpting in time”.
El Lissitsky’s much imitated 1924 photo assemblage, the one that came to define the Constructivist art movement and kickstarted collage’s dominance within creative circles, is entitled The Constructor, whilst pitiable hero Ivan Denisovich toils in construction at a forced labour camp in Solzhenitsyn’s literary masterwork. Now, to add to the list of cultural stonemasonry, we have Monument, the third full length by Minsk’s gloomy electro synthpop tsars.
That austere primitivism that defined Lissitsky’s aesthetic has long been appropriated by Western entertainment, as evidenced by Peter Saville’s pastiche of constructivist graphic design for the early Joy Division releases on Factory Records, and more recently in Franz Ferdinand’s first album artwork and Take Me Out video. And whilst singer Egor Shkutko’s existential lyrical tone and deep baritone draws frequent comparisons to Ian Curtis, the songs on Monument, especially Obrechen, Lubit’ I Vypolnyat and Otveta Net, rich with metallic beats and oily bass lines bring to mind the spartan confidence of New Order around the time of their debut Movement. As its title implies, by actually spending time on the continent, rather than imagining its influence, the band carved their way out of the gloom that almost turned them into a memorial to their fallen comrade.
Another group that took inspiration from their eastern neighbours work ethic and imagery was Kraftwerk, most notably during the Man Machine period. On the track The Robots, which is sung in English, are two lines spoken in Russian: “Ja tvoi sluga” and “Ja tvoi rabotnik”, which translate as “I’m your servant” and “I’m your worker”. In the video for single Discoteque, the concrete dandelion that towers over some unspecified drab suburb converts into a gigantic brutalist disco ball whilst the band members perform in a sculpture hall filled with unfinished busts of Russian civic leaders.
Much like those detached androids of dance, Molchat Doma understand the double meaning inherent in the word ‘construct’. Whilst fashioning their impressive catalogue, they’ve chosen a conceptual appropriation of a populist style, a postmodern adoption of a defined aesthetic (dowdy dark clothing, brutalist imagery) chosen to appeal to a supposedly discerning audience expecting pleasure from an unrealistic stereotype.
With complex and stimulating albums put out in the last year by artists as incongruent as psych rockers Lucidvox and dreampop queen Kate NV, it appears that the European mainland’s underground music scene is having its time in the sun again, and whilst they may not stand firm for centuries as austere testament to their nation’s cultural stronghold, Molchat Doma are having a blast reclaiming their heritage and proving themselves to be a more than an entertaining chip off the old Bloc.