Over the past five years, the prolific output of Russian electronic producer Pavel Milyakov has hopscotched between genre and mood: four-on-the-floor techno, palatable indie rock, new age ambient, harsh drone, and collaborations that range from Dirty Beaches’ Alex Zhang Hungtai to avant-saxophonist Bendik Giske. Though produced with care and consideration, Milyakov’s recordings often bear the hallmarks of experimental recklessness, documenting his creative spirit with a sort of diaristic vulnerability. His music often resembles hi-fidelity sketches: expertly produced excursions deliberately left in their nascent state.
On last year’s Blue, Milyakov’s first collaboration with the Ukrainian artist and vocalist Yana Pavlova, the duo improvised a series of blissful performances with funk swagger and rhythmic propulsion. In its catchiest moments, the music inched toward something resembling indie pop. Although the pair continue a similar collaborative process on their latest album, Wandering, the results are much darker. It’s a record of harsh industrial feedback and mournful howls, one that relishes in its own bleakness. Over 10 tracks and 33 minutes, it bangs around in the shadows with hardly a glimmer of light. If Blue was Milyakov and Pavlova’s summer of love, Wandering is its unexpectedly brutal winter.
Culling inspiration from drone, black metal, dub, industrial, and noise, Wandering is fragmented and deconstructed. Its twists and turns are nearly obscured, as songs blur into one another like recurring nightmares. Feedback, pulsing static, harsh rhythms, trigger-delays, vocal chants, and crushing synths ricochet off one another in frenetic conversation. Wandering is committed to its own disquieting world, and its musicians take pleasure in restlessly tinkering within its frameworks. The monotonous atmosphere allows small inflections to cast powerful shadows: A piercing cry gives way to an impossibly sharp gated crash symbol. A flood of delayed feedback slowly rolls in like a rough tide, the silence between shallow waves bringing its own solace.
“Ramified” opens the album with delay-heavy synthetic bagpipes and cavernous, mourning vocals from Pavlova. The song moves at a crawl as warm guitar drones hum like distant thunder, a funeral procession played in reverse. Fluttering synth tones brighten the desolate palette just as the song fades into the drone doom of “Mountains & Woodlands,” where churning guitars, delayed blast beats, and chopped-up tom rolls crash like a hailstorm, recalling early Liturgy in its mechanized approach to corrosive darkness.
Several moments on the album are reimagined versions of songs that appeared in warmer, more amiable renditions on Blue. “Take a While” recasts the dance-pop standout “Strong Willed” as a harrowing drone symphony, with Pavlova chanting its memorable refrain, “Gonna take a while with it/Then you reach for it.” Here, the lyrics take on a narcotic haze, barely recognizable over crash symbols. “Denying” incorporates passages from “Blue Denial,” another toe-tapper from the previous record. But in this version, jackhammer drum fills and fuzzed-out guitars shroud the words. The stuttering feedback is unexpectedly soothing, like a doom-metal sound bath.
After the dissonance of the first half, the album begins to soften. “Rural” brightens the tone with flickering guitar notes and skittering melodies akin to Archie Shepp’s Mama Rose played through Sunn O)))’s gear. “Wandering Fugue,” a late standout, introduces bubbling bit-synth organ trills that shine through the bleakness like laser beams, supplying a brief moment of sweetness as the chirpy synths meld into Pavlova’s wordless coos. These calmer tracks offer respite from the record’s overwhelming sense of claustrophobia. With such a cohesive atmosphere, Wandering lacks some of the finesse and nuance that makes Milyakov’s more eclectic work so striking. Yet like an off-beat horror film, this haunted experiment carries its own charming aura of chaos.
Correction: A previous version of this review incorrectly identified the artist Yana Pavlova as Russian. She is Ukrainian.
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