Ersatz Musika

Voice Letter

Asphalt Tango CD ATR 1407


Full Price (44 mins)

Originally published in Songlines.

From Asphalt Tango, the German label known for its gypsy and Romanian records comes a new release from Berlin via the former Soviet Union. With a sound aiming at Russendisko meets Manu Chao, singer songwriter Irina Dubrovskaya has assembled a first-rate band of local émigrés for this project of ‘vocal postcards’ – evocative stories and poems filled with fragments of memory that constitute a new kind of post-Soviet urban folk music, half village and half tower block. Well that’s what the press blurb says anyway: despite the moments of beauty that certainly exist, this is an album that will have trouble winning over new non-Russian speaking fans. All three stars above are for the sound: delicate and dream-like with swirling organs, music boxes, toy xylophones and classy lo-fi electric guitar from Leonid Soybelman, ex-frontman of Estonian avant-gardistes Ne Zhdali. But where Ersatz Musika convinces in the quality of its sound, it fails to excite overall. As you open the CD there is an immediate hint why: the poem on the first page - lyrics from one of the songs perhaps? – seems not plaintive and evocative but badly translated and downright pretentious. The overall impression is one of extreme seriousness devoid of wit: press releases talking about ‘the sound of the Slavic soul’ hardly help matters. But the main downfall is the singing: Dubrovskaya’s voice struggles to carry the songs, and while the curious sound world might spark your interest, the singer – sad to say – won’t keep it.

You may also like: