On today's agenda: art pop.
It’s likely the closest I’ll ever get to synesthesia, a genre of music with roots in art-school philosophy and its sights set on the avant-garde. More than an eclectic soundscape, art pop is a patchwork of self expression. There’s as much emphasis on poetry and aesthetics as there is on complex melody, and the occasional bait-and-switch tempo shift. So, it’s no wonder that it acts as a kind of homing device for artistic chameleons—like the ever-evolving musical pillar David Bowie, for whom we should all share a moment of silence (or cacophonous rock 'n' roll)—and more recently, the four-man band Milan to Minsk.
True to art pop’s ways, Milan to Minsk’s self-titled EP is rife with cultural references. Catch the possible nod to Seinfeld’s Rochelle, Rochelle, anyone? Or recognize the title of their closing track, "Oona O’Neil," (hint: her father was a literary powerhouse and her husband was was literally Charlie Chaplin). Not to mention the myriad styles entwined in their music, which are as varied as the cities after which they're named. I imagine Milan to Minsk craft their songs the way you or I would play Cat’s Cradle.
Take, for instance, the album’s prelude, which stretches just over a minute as an array of classically-inspired synths. At first it seems like a sonic anomaly—the rest of the EP has more of a progressive rock-meets-pop feel, with dreamy intervals and electronic detailing. The prelude departs from this with a sound like woodwinds funneled through a space-age portal, but after listening to the subsequent tracks, you see the theme it introduces (and its subtle traces in other songs): the experimentation between established styles and new ideas. True to form, it’s nostalgia meets innovation.
Now, for the standouts.
I’ll begin with "Exercises in Public Transportation," which sways between soft reposes, moments of megaphone-filtered vocals, energetic bursts of drum-guitar interplay, and spirals of krautrock-inspired synth—and it’s all really good. The melodic rollercoaster that Milan to Minsk constructs complements the narrative quality of their lyrics. Whoever the subject of the song may be, they’re drawn for us in bold, intricate strokes. There are references to a teenage marriage, an affinity for cursing lurking on “crooked sour lips” and of course, the chorus, “You are the stuff that golden years are made for / The stuff that private tears are shed for ... You wish you could be younger / They say that you are younger still.” These are lyrics that break their auditory bounds and come to vibrant life.
Then there’s "Glasgow," which starts with gentle but brooding guitar strumming, soft percussion, and later on, a touch of brass. It’s quite soothing, in almost a lotus-eaters, time-has-lapsed-as-I-flow-through-this-haze kind of way. Which seems to be the intended vibe, as the lyrics go, “I fell asleep, forgot what day it was / Also had some things to care for / Forgot those too.”
Milan to Minsk goes for full immersion, and they more than succeed. Once you press play, you’re engaged till the end. See for yourself.