ALBUM REVIEW: Ummagma – Kiev Remixes (2014)

Picture 6By Ryan Smith

In light of recent events, it seems fitting to feature an article about an act that seems hell-bent on using music to eliminate borders and bridge the gaps between the nations of the world. I’m talking of course about Canadian-Ukrainian duo Ummagma, an act that you’ll already know a bit about if you’ve been a regular reader of Replicant Ears. For those of you unfamiliar, Ummagma is a dream-pop/shoegaze project founded in 2003 by Ukrainian Alexx Kretov and Canadian Shauna McLarnon. New Born, an album by Russia’s Sounds of Sputnik and featuring Ummagma, was covered earlier this month in this publication. That album featured five new tracks and seven remixes by very talented artists that simply destroy.

In their upcoming release Kiev Remixes, Ummagma aim to give their composition “Kiev,” released in 2012 on their debut album Antigravity, a similar treatment. Inspired by the turmoil that unfolded in the titular Ukrainian city, and bent on delivering a message of hope, it is a tremendous idea to have this song be the basis of a project in which nine different artists from nine different countries offer up their own points of view on the arrangement.

The album begins with the original mix of “Kiev.” The track initially comes off as clunky and almost abrasive, but with dreamy textures and enthralling hooks that create a fascinating turmoil. In true Ummagma style, the song develops into a brilliantly noisy coda out of which gorgeous, Peter Gabriel-like hooks peak but momentarily. The original mix is followed by the Statickman remix, which is quite excellent. This mix presents the original vocals in a far more organised tune than the original. The decidedly 1980s vibe this mix takes is more than welcome and compliments McLarnon’s dark wave deadpan vocals extremely well. While the hooks aren’t nearly as subtle as on the original, Statickman’s hooks are abundant and very interesting in their own right.

The next couple of remixes are trippy, mostly vocal-free affairs that are very well put together, but don’t make for instantly appealing listening. The next mix of note is the Haioka Shintaro remix, which captures the song from a uniquely Japanese point of view. The darkly atmospheric masterpiece features the original vocals bled out with reverb, what sounds like chopped radio chatter, and a beautiful piano foundation that roots everything in a soothing kind of tragedy. In a sense, this mix compliments the original the best as it captures what Ummagma was originally trying to convey with the song. That “what is the end for one person may be the start for another,” to quote the press release on the song.

Ummagma: Shauna McLarnon & Alexx Kretov.

Ummagma: Shauna McLarnon & Alexx Kretov.

Brazil’s Mind Movies offers up the next most notable remix. This one features a stunning array of thrilling, 1970s-style hooks. A steady, driving rhythm carries the song along while these mind melting hooks weave in and out of one another, creating a brilliantly busy tapestry of sound. Sounds of Sputnik, Russia’s Roman Kalitkin, delivers a very lucid version with keyboards and beautiful guitars seeping with the wonderous sci-fi majesty that I’ve come to admire in his exceptional work. In spite of the more radical arrangements that I have singled out in this review, the Sputnik mix is at the moment my favourite on the record.

The Auxiliary tha Masterfader Eight O Eight mix makes a very good go at a sweet disco jam and shows off some delightful new hooks in between bouts of vocals. I especially like the droning synth toward the track’s end, which eventually carries into a very triumphant synth coda. The ultra-smooth and glossy Mikail Fas mix concludes the album, tying everything up in a manner that is not altogether unpleasant.

My ultimate verdict on Kiev Remixes? While a departure from Ummagma’s stellar dream-pop/shoegaze material, the record is a fairly decent remix album that becomes something quite beautiful when the message, effort, and scope of the project is taken into consideration. Using the ultra-relevant electronic music medium, Ummagma have proven that it is indeed possible for music to overcome borders and international conflicts.

The disc drops digitally this Friday and I highly recommend you take a look at it. Electronic music fans will dig the different points of views on the song and the medium itself, and Ummagma fans will appreciate the many different styles that the duo can translate into.

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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