Tuesday 4 January 2022

Pristine Kids - Leave No Trace (2022)

Country: Russia
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 2 Jan 2022
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram

That's a dark and angry note to kick off this prog rock album from Russia! It utterly stripped away any preconceptions I might have had as to where this was going to go and it took a while for me to find my bearings. There's some Pink Floyd in the guitars, some wicked precision in the drums and a real anger in the bass, but it's the powerhouse vocals of Ri Vinogradova that steal our attention the most. Hers is not a voice to forget!

It's hard to describe what she does here. She doesn't leap in front of the band and take over from the instruments. She's arguably not the dominant force at this point, because that bass is so prominent in the mix that it's impossible to ignore. However, she simply refuses to do what we expect, which ought to start with the fact that we expect a singer to sing and Vinogradova just doesn't do much of that here. That's not to say that this is an instrumental album; she's all over it, just doing other things.

She doesn't sing here so much as she speaks in tongues. She croons and she snarls and she flows in rivulets. She's velvet and she's ice and she's acid. She's restrained danger and she's unrestrained fury. She's an angel and she's a horde of demons. Whatever she does is notable and magnetic and that holds for when it's merely to pause a lot more than we expect early in Hide and Seek. Stop It isn't the only showcase for her voice here, but it's an excellent start.

I have to wonder about her background, because her palette is especially rich. She's not just a rock singer, that's for sure. Surely, she's done musical theatre because she's so dynamic. I would expect jazz in there too, because of the way she does so much without actually using words. Stop It shows that there's blues and gospel too, maybe at the heart of everything, with soul erupting from that. And I have to wonder about the background of her bandmates too, because there's theatrics in all they do as well. The drummer is Baard Kolstad and everything else not a guest texture is played by producer Sasha Smirnov, who also wrote the lyrics.

I mention guest textures, because there are textures everywhere here and many of them are the contribution of guests, the flute on Hide and Seek, the viola and cello on A Pillar of Salt and a bass solo on Lullaby that's delightfully smooth. That's not all of them, because there's a circus texture late in A Pillar of Salt and a musical box texture in Lullaby that are presumably due to Smirnov, an impressively versatile musician, who moves effortlessly from surf to prog to heavy grunge.

There's a musical box feel in Boundless too, which also features plenty of aging static and ends up sounding like new wave, Björk jamming with Shriekback, but there's so much versatility on offer, it would be crazy to suggest that this band sound like anyone else exclusively. Pristine Kids may well sound like all sorts of other people at points, but they're just grabbing colours and textures for an impressive musical palette. On the other side of their auditory blender, we get neatly original in a host of different ways for different songs. Boundless is not Stop It and neither are Silence.

The challenge is to reconcile all of this as one band, which is one I'm relishing. There's a special joy in how a song like Silence evolves. It starts out as jagged alternative rock, drops into experimental classical, adds jazzy rhythms over a sultry Vinogradova, grows into intricacy with a neat viola, and then launches into angry bass-heavy grunge, Vinogradova screaming just as well as she crooned. I loved this song on a first listen but I'm still exploring its depths after half a dozen. And, to a lesser degree, the same goes for the entire album.

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