A Tangled Tale

Staraya Derevnya
Boulder Blues

Another fine one from this UK-Israeli collective of musicians who call themselves “krautfolk” in an attempt to nail down their eccentric approach to group playing…very much enjoyed the work of Gosha Hniu and his men since we were surprised by a copy of Inwards Opened The Floor in 2020, and today’s item continues the mildly barmy and driven approach which seems to characterise this oddball combo – a deliciously ramshackle approach, lots of instruments playing at once, puzzling voices jabbering and squeaking away like an entire congregation speaking in tongues, or else intoning and repeating the ancient mystical texts with much solemnity. One of the things I like is the lack of a tonal “centre” – there’s not necessarily a root note, nor even a centre of musical gravity, yet the music hangs together like a loose affiliation of gases and related elements, slowly but inexorably making its progress across the floor of the jungle.

It’s indeed handy for them (and us) to invoke the “krautrock” model, but even our most free-spirited favourites from that golden age of German progressive music were still rock musicians, some of them shackled to playing together in the same key or working to the same old blues-derived chord structures. (Obviously we’d have to make an exception for Faust, at the very least). Staraya Derevnya manage to escape a few of the major pitfalls of “jamming”, developing their own very distinctive form of freeform DIY acoustic thrash and clump. I suspect it’s a rare and hard-won thing, and though it may appear simple and almost insouciant on the surface, it’s very likely there’s a lot of craft, practice, and musical rapport informing all of these wayward musical moves. I enjoyed ‘Scythian Nets’ for its highly idiosyncratic vocal burbles (almost comical in places), though you may prefer the Amon Düül styled hammerment of the title track, where our friends nearly work themselves into a frenzy with their single-minded assay, which like its name is not unlike the progress of a rock rolling down a hill.

But wait until you hear ‘Tangled Hands’, a mystical cloud of seriousness and unknowable mesmerising tones, expressed through stick percussion, murmuring voice fragments and gorgeous polyphonic drones and interplay. Instruments used, for those who wish to know, do include synths, guitars, cello, clarinet, double bass, drums, as well theremin, flute, and voices, but nothing can really account for the limpid beauty of ‘Tangled Hands’, its amazing mixed chords which stir a romantic and nostalgic heart. Credit to some of the standout maverick names here, such as Grundik Kasyansky, Yoni Silver, and the vocalist Galya Chikiss who provides ‘Cries and Whispers’. I suppose ‘Bubbling Pelt’ is the main event on the album, taking up 21 mins of the B side, and though I do enjoy it I’m slightly disappointed by its form – a simple guitar and bass shuffle in a minor key which doesn’t modulate very much, treads water, and generally resembles the kind of thing Sunburned Hand of the Man would churn out on a Tuesday afternoon in their futile search for the Nirvana of cosmic free-playing. That said, this ‘Pelt’ does afford space for each musician to interject an intriguing line or tone colour at unexpected moments, be it a clarinet flourish or synth burble or percussive sweep. Strap in for this camel ride and hope for an oasis at the end of it. Could be that Staraya Derevnya work better with the intensity of a shorter tune where they must work that bit harder to pack in all the information emerging from their papyrus screeds and carved tablets.

Very fine record, with a surreal cover painting by Danil Gertman that subverts innocent motifs while channelling Lewis Carroll, and suggests strange, primordial forces at play.