From Krakow in Poland, we have the Polish avant-rock group Stare Tasmy with a fine release called Kryzys Czytelnictwa (SOROS RECORDS SOR01). Can’t find out much about this band – they may be a new combo, although singer Marcin Barski has passed our way before with his unusual spoken-word tape-assembly record Wanda’s Dream (Reading Group 2018). Drummer Tomek Choloniewski – who has sadly died since we received this – played in the Krakow Improvisers Orchestra and he appeared on the rather impenetrable Sympli Romatikó record from 2014. Bassist Malgorzata Tekiel is likewise an experienced player and has been making records since the early 1990s. Sax player Paulina Owczarek also blew her notes with Krakow Improvisers Orchestra and made one record as Sambar with Tomasz Gadecki.
There’s some spirited playing on Kryzys Czytelnictwa, the group exhibiting the kind of crazed elan and heaviness that we also hear on that Ciastko record and The Kurws (both from Gusstaff Records), but they also have a nice line in melancholic and reflective states, as they contemplate the insoluble conundrums of modern life. I mention this as the record comes across largely as a vehicle for the spoken-word rants of Marcin Barski, who doesn’t always opt to sing when he has a chance to unburden his soul in a growly rap delivered with much surliness and frowning, sometimes underscored by punky chanting. Can’t tell you much about the content of these bitter yaps – it’s all spoken in Polish – but it’s evident that here is a man who is not content with the state of the world, and explains at some length what we need to do about it. Barski also supplies the band’s other secret weapon, that of found tapes and samples of spoken-word recordings; indeed the band name translates as “Old Tapes”. In two cases these are field recordings provided by Przemek Niemczewski and Marcin Lenarczyk; elsewhere, the sources are described as “fragments of archival recordings found on unlabeled, abandoned cassette tapes”, creating an intriguing mystery.
The album title Kryzys Czytelnictwa translates as “reading crisis” or “crisis of literacy”, a phrase which I would understand as a more general observation about the breakdown of communication, a theme which is in evident from the cover photo which shows members of the band engaged in a pitched battle with each other, a stark image of internecine strife. Further photos from that session are inside the digipak folds, where we can relish the incongruous sight of sponge-mops and yard brushes being used as weapons. That theme of non-communication certainly was present in that Sympli Romatikó mentioned above, a record explicitly intended to address the difficulty of communication, going so far as to name one track ‘Misinterpretation of Misunderstanding’. As to Wanda’s Dream, that was Marcin Barski using his extensive collection of found tapes to concoct a statement of extreme ambiguity, while simultaneously telling a story (of sorts) and exploring various political and philosophical ideas, on a collage work that reflected his true status as an audio installation artist.
All in all, I suppose this Stare Tasmy disc might not fully satisfy a listener seeking some 1990s-styled heavy avant-rock in the mode of Shellac, Crust, or Butthole Surfers, but it’s still a compelling listen; while its undercurrents are more likely to resonate with a Polish-speaking audience, the band – and Barski in particular – all speak the universal musical language of discontent which any punk-rock fan will recognise. From 7th January 2020.