Tuesday, April 14, 2009


VIALKA - "Succès Planétaire International" (dualPLOVER)

Wow! This time around, the Vialka disc finds itself cozy against a piece of black felt wrapped in gorgeous photography (Wenxi Xiong, you win!) and cool, abstract art. Yup, here they are again - so glad to see somewhat wistful-looking pictures of these globe-conquerors, confident in their new madness... even a new swank logo! It's almost as if they're trying to lull you into a posture of comfort, to be utterly obliterated by the waiting tones on the record.

Premiers Pas opens with some incredible brass... What, a tuba? Gay and lovely... Strange blasts of frothy vocal nonsense... Flute brilliance -- moving from chanteuse to big, russian-style choirs. Oh man, they're at it again - and their musical chops are better than ever.

The new-heavy-heavy rock moments are new (to my recollection) and Boros is sounding better, stronger, faster on the vox - he sounds a bit like Jello Biafra now, which is awesome. The surf-gypsy moments are lovely and confusing... especially with "yahoo!" staidly yelled over top... and then funk! All this with synthesizers buzzing along at the edge of perception as well... Distorted vox clips all over the place... The end of 100% Hello is a glitch destructo clip-art fest which one shouldn't try to decode - just let it do to you what it wants to.

One For The Road starts with a yummy-fuzzy Boros high-life guitar tone and shuffle-a-gogo with Frecheville drumming the bounce to the cosmos. It's hard to say what of this is Pro Tools and overdubbing, but the drums are sounding astoundingly tight. What group would bother with such regulated tightness on such a mad trip? Whether it's editing or immaculate playing, it sure packs a punch.

This duo, being effervescent world traveler magis are clearly operating on a different frequency, but rocking their chops most days and nights has translated into a recording monster-engine. I actually wrote something similar, on reviewing their 2005 release "Curiosities of Popular Customs", and it's hard to believe how much they've further tightened up on this record.

The odd verbal 'shit, i fucked up' and similar are amazing, almost like Easter eggs among the vortex... Here they leave lots of room for solos and shared musical moments and cool little tricks. Good Riddance features minimalist tuned perc and guitar sequence-type arpeggiated motives which circle and develop - this feels distinctly African, but the inspiration might come from anywhere. The only other type of omni-world-music like this I can think of is generated by Dead Can Dance, where any ethnicity becomes 'every' ethnicity or perhaps The Great Ethnicity. The eerie sense of a cosmic Other is threatened by looming presentments of thrash metal and then ends on a major seventh: very weird. Not music for normal folks, to be sure.

Do What Now? starts like a high-life remix (actually based on a traditional Shona mbira piece) and then ends up a pointed, more dangerous rock-out with chanting - incomprehensible and still catchy as hell. Interjected guitar rush-rock-outs are ever present. I think the one word for this record is "illusive".

The bass drum hits in Dutar remind you that what you're listening to is not only really fucking weird and cool, but also exquisitely engineered - the mix, with all its strange smattering of sounds is packed with character and all the parts occupy a nice, funny realm of their own, making up a highly listenable mix of musical gnomes. Technically, this should be impossible music to listen to, but the mix goes a long way to helping the brain make sense of things. It must have been very challenging to mix and master this stuff - kudos to Bob Drake (recording) and whoever did the mastering. It also seems Drake was responsible for the editing; clearly, hands-down, a true genius at the controls. The mixing treatments and edits are so subtle across the board - seemingly impossible for a project of this scope and complexity.

Always Against brings up an interesting point: the listener disappears out of complete avant-garde abstraction for a moment to settle into what appears to be a vivid and powerful mood - quite devoid of the manic, painted blobs of half-jokingness. So the thought is: wow, if Vialka were to sit down to take us through a 'conventional' musical, static-for-four-minutes experience, or a whole record of that... What would happen? Would Vialka, without the miasma, still be Vialka or would Vialka evaporate? With the intensity and the truth of this powerful moment, one realizes 'shit this band is actually exquisite and might be hiding really intense and beautiful songs' - which, of course, is not the point of Vialka. Is exposing this fact the demolishment of the Vialka entity? The very fact that the question is raised is likely proof that Vialka is doing its job. Viva Vialka!

Hole in my Bucket pretty much drives the point home - the true international experience is a world full of crazy hillbillies on fire. Vialka has seen the world - and that's what they've written. Trying to be legit and weirdo at the same time, Frecheville's warbling songbird tones - luscious singing apparently lost and re-found in the 1930's - make you melt. (You've got to want to be a fly on the wall during this married couple's arguments!) Boros as muttering Henry (Henri) is beyond great - if it doesn't make you want to listen to the whole album AGAIN and twice as loud, I'd be very surprised.

With a record like this, you don't highlight 'good songs'... this is one of those records, perhaps like those of Frank Zappa, where you say, 'wait, wait, here comes this part!'... and then mouth sing it and gesticulate to get the point across. My favourite album moments: Premiers Pas @ 2:39 is one of the best screams in recorded history. 100% Hello @ 2:03 ... I count the seconds until this gets sampled by hip-hop funksters. Always Against @ 3:33 is an intense bass-driven rock out with monster fills that progs too and fro. Frecheville's flat coaxing of Henry is fun and mental.

Vialka has presented another incredible ride through an astounding and confusing musical space - it will demand your concentration, and you won't be able to concentrate on anything else once you put it on - by far their best compositions and recording to date. Let's hope dualPLOVER can further disseminate the genius of Vialka to a wider audience than the world-weary tot-toting duo has already done by themselves.

Karl Mohr
April 14, 2009

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