Magnitogorsk roughly means "magnet-mountain city" in Russian. It was a settlement developed under Stalinism in the far Western end of Siberia (technically it is on the Siberian side of the Ural Mountains, but just barely). As such it is listed as one of the 25 most polluted places on Earth, which isn't really a big surprise. Stalin built this place to crank out steel for the Soviet Union, and the planet could just cooperate, or he would figure out some way to send it to the Gulag!
The term "Magnitogorsk" brings to mind images of industrial desolation. I picture it as an unholy cross between Gary, Indiana and Newark, NJ -- the two most industrially blighted places i have ever been. In my mind, i visualize a barren landscape, devoid of plant life and covered in soot, with decaying, rusting metal pipes and structures jutting all over the place in an incomprehensible maze, and odds jets of fire shooting off into the cold, gray night.
Icky. I feel unclean just thinking about it. Wikipedia says that the people who live there have one of the highest rates of cancer on the planet. Thanks, Uncle Joe!
All of this really makes me question why Port-Royal and Absent Without Leave, two electro ambient dreampop acts from the Mediterranean, decided to use that word as the name of their collaborative album. The music that both artists make is lovely and delicate, not at all like what the term Magnitogorsk brings to mind.
Port-Royal is everyone's favorite Genoese four-piece post-rock band. They make music that is largely serene and tranquil out of keyboards and heavily effected guitar that meander along with computer generated beats and laptop mangled sounds. It's a lovely music that can be dense at times, but is never heavy. Absent Without Leave is the project of George Mastrokostas, a Greek Athenian ambient guitar artist in the Yellow6 school of playing, so again the music is mellow.
Each artist does three original pieces and then they each remix one of the other's songs, giving a total of eight songs here. Let me briefly go over each.
Port-Royal kick things off with Ernst Bloch, which consist of six minutes worth of ambient haze which swells, and ebbs, and swells again, and then suddenly is joined by a chugging and stuttering mechanical beat. The sudden beat after the calmness of the first part of the song is jarring, waking the listener from their peaceful reverie.
The ridiculously titled Agent 008 Codename Littlehorses (aka The Lazybones) is another piece with a sudden juxtaposition. This starts with a laptoptronic beginning in which keyboard tones waver alongside slight skittering beats. It grows and swells, and then at three minutes someone starts playing guitar. Just a simple, un-modified guitar bit over the electronic effects. Lovely in its simplicity.
Port-Royal end their section with Severnaya, a short ambient interlude of hazy sounds. It's nice, but pales next to their two other pieces here.
Then we have the Absent Without Leave remix of Zobione pt. 2. AWOL makes the song even more ambient, washing out the sounds and adding some slight ambient guitar over it. Not a radical re-working, but it's nice.
The first pure AWOL tune here is called On A Carousel, and is a pleasant guitar piece. It is minimal, with a few layers/loops of picked notes. Eventually he brings in a drum machine, which adds nicely to the texture.
His long (and longly titled) second track is what stands out to me here. It is called My Music Is Still Sad Though I Found My Happiness, and it clocks in at just over eleven minutes. He plays his guitar with some tremolo here, which makes a nice chiming effect, but it is the drum machine that stands out to me. It is a simple beat, entirely electronic, a faint loop that chugs alongside the playing, and, somehow, makes the tune seem like Tristessa-ear Portal. A lovely effect, and despite its length, this is a catchy tune that seems over too quickly to me.
Evening Walks, his final piece here, starts with a thudding rave beat, and some moaning keyboards, and then Mastrokostas plays a post-punk like guitar alongside these sounds. Very nice, and more Durutti Column than anything else.
Finally, we wrap things up with Port-Royal remixing the AWOL song Blind. I am not familiar with the original, but this remix is a mess of heavily echoed guitar and tinkling keys. It is very psychedelic, but is also a suitable end to this CD.
Now, this is a limited release. Something like 500 copies were made, and each has one of a series of covers. (See the pic, above, for a wide shot of all the different cover types. So it's not easy to find, but worth it should you enjoy this type of music.
Overall i am favorably impressed. Port-Royal continue to do excellent work, and Absent Without Leave has piqued my interest enough that i will be on the lookout for more from this performer. I think that those who enjoy Port-Royal, or contemporary ambient electro dreampop, should definitely check out this release.