ALBUM REVIEW: Sounds of Sputnik – New Born [ft. Ummagma] (2014)

SOS_NB_CD Digipak (4 Panel)By Ryan Smith

One doesn’t follow forward-thinking music without learning that music very often triumphs over people. Sure, music history is littered with great one-off projects that didn’t stand the test of time because of band infighting (Zwan, Badger, Audioslave, to name a few), but I like to think that for the most part, music and art are able to dissolve borders and other barriers better than almost anything. A fine example of this is the subject of today’s review. With increased tensions between Russia and North America as of late, I find it truly amazing that such a rift (if there is any, beyond whatever the fudge is going on between the political powers-that-be) be bridged by great, passionate, artistic music.

Sounds of Sputnik is the shoegaze/dream-pop project of Moscow-based alternative musician Roman Kalitkin, and our subject, New Born, is his debut solo album release. On the other side of the coin are Shauna McLarnon and Alexander Kretov, comprising Whitehorse-based Canadian/Ukrainian duo Ummagma, who feature prominently on the record. The band quickly received attention (including that of our parent publication, Wave Maker Magazine) after releasing two full-length records in 2012. Kalitkin and the members of Ummagma lost contact over a decade ago when the latter moved out of Russia, but have reunited to bring us this interesting new release.

While New Born is billed as a full-length record, I’d more accurately label it an EP with bonus material. In truth, there are five original songs here, two straight Sputnik tracks and three more featuring Ummagma, and the remainder of the album is filled out with several remixes of two of the ones featuring Ummagma.

Opening things up brilliantly is the first single and title track, “New Born.” Featuring beautiful keyboard work, soaring, atmospheric guitars, and glorious deadpan contralto vocals from Ummagma’s Shauna McLarnon, “New Born” is an instant shoegaze/dream-pop classic. The nearly monotone melody is surprisingly catchy while staying low-key enough to allow the rest of the instruments to bleed together into a pool of intelligently composed shoegaze. The second tune, “Light Scheme,” is a duet between both Ummagma members and features some really memorable melodic guitar work. The distant and haunting wailing of lead guitar kicks in just over halfway through to give everything a U2-meets-shoegaze kind of feel.

Sounds of Sputnik: Roman Kalitkin.

Sounds of Sputnik: Roman Kalitkin.

“Blizzard” and “Shades of the Cosmos” are Roman Kalitkin solo tracks. The former presents a wonderfully morose drift through sci-fi country before lifting into dreamier stratospheres. I especially like the keyboards during the track’s introduction. The latter is a minory groove laced with heavily distorted guitars and brilliant sonic textures toward the end. Again, the lead guitar work is stunning.

The final original track is “Overdrive,” a fast-paced tune that would sound quite wicked if Pearl Jam covered it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a cool tune as is, but it reminds me so much of Pearl Jam, it’s shoegaze execution just kind of wars with that vibe. I can just totally hear Eddie hollering this one out at full volume atop Stone and Mike’s guitars and unleashing a new concert favourite.

Following these tracks, is the radio edit of the single, “New Born,” and no less than four very interesting remixes of that same song. First up is the Malcolm Holmes/Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark remix. This mix removes a lot of the shoegaze elements and adds a trippier, more synthetic rhythm and clears up the vocals, bringing them to the forefront. There are a lot of subtleties on this version that make it quite fantastic, I might say. The Sputnik remix, in stark contrast, seems to contradict itself a little too much for my liking.

Russian producer Oleg Mezherovsky offers up a kick ass version of the tune with disco/synth vibes that change the tune and ditch its original atmosphere, whilst capturing an entirely new sonic landscape. There are a lot of moments on this one, like for instance the use of a rolling guitar lead-in at around 33 seconds, that make it a totally necessary addition to the record. Disco just friggin rules.

Ummagma: Alexander Kretov & Shauna McLarnon.

Ummagma: Alexander Kretov & Shauna McLarnon.

Another Russian talent, Morozov, proposes his own radical change that reminds me, rather magnificently I should say, of OVO-era Peter Gabriel. It is this fact, plus the spectacular minimalist build-up, and sparing, but brilliant use of the original tracks that make Morozov’s mix my favourite of the reinterpretations.

The remaining three tracks on the album are remixes of “Light Scheme.” On the first, producer Fran Ashcroft relegates the instrumental aspects of the song to the background, while the vocals are soaked in reverb, adding a dark, early nineties sound that would sound at home on The Crow movie soundtrack. Strange then, that Sputnik’s mix of the same song shows off such a light and airy sci-fi vibe. It is pretty neat, to say the least, how the tone of this tune is altered so drastically between mixes. The final remix, by Brazil’s Mind Movies, wins out for me because it showcases a chipper and busy tune reminiscent of Brian Eno’s seventies art-pop material.

So yes, the final word: fans of dream-pop and shoegaze should most definitely pick New Born up. The record offers up a great blend of shoegaze dreamscapes and sci-fi wonder, and is a fine artistic presentation, it’s just a shame there aren’t more original tracks on the record. While some of the remixes are unique enough to give New Born an almost full-length feel, I definitely walked away from it feeling like, given the wonderfully engrossing depth and almost playful nature of those five tunes, the album, more so than the listener, is just a tiny bit short-changed.

Still not convinced? Check out the lovely video for the single, “New Born” below!

New Born is available for download at the following outlets:

Amazon | iTunes | Bandcamp 

– Editor

RYAN SMITH spends a great deal of his time under troll bridges shaking his fist and hollering obscenities at the mainstream, but occasionally finds himself on the side of a pop act that the underground has disowned. A schizoid fan for the 21st century? Although he has a diverse musical taste that runs the gamut from black metal to country to most forms of jazz, Ryan’s first love will always be progressive music.


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