Despite, or maybe even “due to” the controversies it sparked, Siekiera‘s (Axe) debut belongs to the greatest recordings in the history of Polish punk. But is it still punk?
Siekiera is deeply rooted in the punk scene. Not only did its demos contain straightedge punk but its members played their parts in other bands – including the widely acclaimed Armia. Therefore the group was tagged as representatives of this genre and had most of fans in this subculture. Siekiera was a laureate of Jarocin 1984 – highly reputed punk festival, which put the band in the lime light. But later that year things changed. Due to the disagreements in the band, the line up changed. Two of the members, who constituted the punk-wing were replaced by the new drummer and keyboardist. The new wave era began.
After two years of existence with the new line up, Siekiera released its debut. It is entitled “Nowa Aleksandria” (“New Alexandria”), which refers to the members’ hometown – Puławy, which is sometimes called that. The reception of the album was very divided. While some praised its ambiguous lyrics, others accused the band leader Tomasz Adamski of betraying punk’s ideas. In this case the truth is far from lying in between. “Nowa Aleksandria” owes its extraordinariness to the distinct rhythm section. In fact, it’s easy to pick as the guitar sound is not, frankly speaking, overused. However, riffs like the one in “Idziemy Na Skraj” just can’t be overestimated. Even though the album is a bit minimalistic, the key parts introduce, typical for this period, new-waveish aftertaste. The outcome is a gloomy, lifeless album, whose atmosphere might be compared to Joy Division’s most depressing pieces.
Unfortunately, Siekiera disbanded just two years after its stunning debut. Nevertheless, it’s crucial to add that two years ago the compilation of the band’s early works was released. It’s entitled “Na Wszystkich Frontach Świata” (“At World’s All Fronts”) and it presents the furious, punkish face of Siekiera.
Even though there is no doubt that “Nowa Aleksandria” owes a lot to the British new wave scene, it stands out with the quality of its compositions and its manic, paranoid lyrics. It’s a highly artistic statement from the period of great changes – a guiding light of the Alexandria’s lighthouse that shone with passion and energy. And it’s shinning still.
Recommended, if you like: Killing Joke, Joy Division, New Order
This week we give you a roundup concerning the underground hip-hop in Poland. Its main idea is not to carefully analyze the phenomenon, but just to recommend a few commendable recordings. We can’t guarantee that they are the best in the history of Polish hip-hop, but they’re all outstanding, so better check them out!
3H – WuWuA
First album and first doubt: is “WuWua” a good example here? Some hip-hop supporters may try to undermine the album’s underground character, reasoning that nowadays 3H‘s members are well established, recognizable, mainstream artists. Nevertheless, no one can deny that recordings like “WuWuA” have shaped Polish hip-hop and paved the way for dozens of bands (especially those which represent its street strain). 3H’s unofficial debut is, actually, one of the first hip-hop albums released in Poland. Its distinguishing feature is an impressive flow and dense, massive (even if still a bit amateurish) production.
Roszja – Dusza Podziemia
And now is the time for a local element. Roszja is one of the most acclaimed Wrocław-based rappers. “Dusza Podziemia” (“The Soul Of The Underground”) is his first unofficial recording recorded under this stage name. Although it’s a solo work, the rapper was supported by Lu and Magiera, who prepared a few beats for the album. “Dusza Podziemia” is a perfect proof of the Wrocław’s 71 stage character: it derives not only from hip-hop (it has an upbeat funky groove); it’s completely relaxed and floats smoothly. Roszja plays with words, telling a bit surreal stories about daily life.
Smarki Smark – Najebawszy
This classic EP by the Gorzów-based rapper Smarki Smark is a treasury of witty comparisons, punchlines and brand new fixed phrases. Therefore it can’t be fairly appreciated by a foreigner… but hey, hip-hop is not that much about the lyrics, otherwise who, among Poles, would listen to Notorious B.I.G.? And, believe me, some of us do! What you may like about “Najebawszy” is Smarki‘s flow and Kixnare‘s raw beats which derive from a hip-hop golden era – meticulously chosen samples and great scratches elevates this EP on even higher.
Dinal – W Strafie Jarania, W Strefie Rymowania
On some level Dinal might be compared to De La Soul – listening to both projects may cause injuries while laughing. It’s just packed with positive vibrations: funky, organic beats (with melodious vocal samples); humorous, witty lyrics; even rappers’ timbre. It builds up an extremely upbeat recording. What is more Opole-based rappers are joined by talented artists, like the female vocalist Lilu or the underground rapper – Zkiwboy. “W Strefie Jarania, W Strefie Rymowania” (“In The Zone Of Smoking, In The Zone Of Rhyming”) refers to the biggest hip-hop albums not only with Dinal’s skills (plenty of triple rhymes) but also with the stories they tell, i.e.: “Zostawiłem Swój Portfel Na Malince” which means “I Lost My Wallet at Malinka” – rings the bell?
Małpa – Kilka Kawałków O Czymś
Last but not least, the last year release, which proved that good music defends itself. The unofficial recording of Małpa had been distributed by himself. Not for long. After two editions of his home-made album sold out within hours, he was asked to join an acclaimed label. After listening to his “Kilka Kawałków O Czymś“, I can only say that it’s amazing that such a great album hadn’t been offered a proper distributor. Małpa’s highest advantage (though completely immeasurable) is his charisma. It’s not what he rhymes, it’s how he does it. Well, sounds like a perfect recommendation for a foreign listener.
Even though the Scandinavian Skalds were probably treated with more respect and reverence, it was the Polish Skaldowie that actually made people dance.
The whole big bit movement in Poland, which burst out in the 60′s, is proof of how big and powerful the music of The Beatles was. Despite the iron curtain, censorship and a negative attitude to the Western culture, this Liverpool-based band significantly influenced Polish music. It seems that the Beatles were just too big for political division, Cold War etc. One of the bands that owes them their tremendous success is the Kraków-based group – Skaldowie. Nevertheless, it would be unfair to reduce the band’s acclaim only to copying the stylistic. They were something more.
Skaldowie started in 1965 in Cracow. It was set up by two brothers: Andrzej and Jacek Zielińscy, who at this time were students of Music University there. They formed the core of the band, not only playing instruments (piano, viola) but also singing (Jacek has a remarkable voice range). The Zielińscy brothers were joined soon by two guitarists, a bassist and a drummer and then the band was shaped. The band received some acclaim, consistently winning the Cracow Song Competitions. However, they hadn’t been in the limelight till the band was awarded during the National Festival of Polish Songs in Opole in 1966. From that time on Skaldowie started appearing in the media and playing music for movies. As a result of their rapidly progressing career, Skaldowie signed a major label and released the long-awaited debut.
Although the recordings released before are also worth listening, it’s Skaldowie’s third album which is the must-have position. “Cała Jesteś w Skowronkach” (“There Are Skylarks All Over You”) is literally packed with hits. To be precise, six songs out of eleven reached the first place in Public Radio’s charts. Apart from the gift for writing Beatles-like addictive melodies (“Medytacje Wiejskiego Listonosza”), the band made use of its outstanding vocalists, composing beautiful vocal harmonies which invite comparison to chamber pop Beach Boys albums. What is more, “Cała Jesteś w Skowronkach” also contains elements of Polish folk music (“Malowany Dym”). As an outcome, several songs from the album are generally considered classics of Polish pop songwriting.
“Cała Jesteś w Skowronkach” is a special album not only because of the songs contained but also the circumstances under which the recording was produced. At first, it was recorded just after the band’s near-fatal experience. Secondly, it had been released slightly before Skaldowie’s first American tour, which noticeably influenced their music. For all these reasons, “Cała Jesteś w Skowronkach” seems to be a pearl of Polish pop. Some may say a bit naïve, some – carefree. Some may say it’s out of date but every pop lover knows that even diamonds are turning to dust but hooks are forever.
Recommended if you like: Beach Boys, The Beatles, Zombies, The Kinks
Most often the music brought closer with this section is either intellectual or at least a bit alternative, but this time we want to prove that in the history of Polish music there is also a place for some good house or pop tunes.
Some may say that Reni Jusis was just doomed to success: she started her music education in the early childhood; she was successfully participating in the local singing competitions; she established some relations with the artistic environment, which helped her to get first, still insignificant, roles. While playing a part in a local musical, she made a great impression on Yaro – rapper and producer, who invited Jusis to join him on the next album. As it turned out later, the offer was just a stroke of luck and opened doors to her solo career. Although Yaro’s album wasn’t an artistic breakthrough, it achieved commercial success, which put an end to the era of Jusis’ anonymity, both for listeners and other musicians. And it was the latter, who persuaded the major label to sign a contract with a relatively unknown vocalist. Michał Urbaniak – the famous Polish jazzman might therefore be called a godfather of Jusis’ debut. Even though “Zakręcona” was a bestseller, it’s not the artist’s R&B incarnation that is the most interesting one.
It was 2001, people around the world were getting crazy while listening to “Aerodynamic”, “Where’s Your Head At” or “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head”, whereas in Poland house or 2-step were remaining a white spots on the music map. Essentially with “Elektrenika” Poland, at least without complexes and prejudices, entered the club. What is more, apart from its historical context, the album is filled with highly danceable and still intriguing songs. Surprisingly, “Elektrenika” derives from many sources: French touch, disco, 80′s pop and even experimental electronic music (Jusis admitted her admiration for Aphex Twin). Musically educated, Reni Jusis was responsible not only for vocals but also for the album’s production; nevertheless, the support of other musicians (including genius bassist – Wojciech Pilichowski and great jazz vocalist – Urszula Dudziak) is also a vital element of the whole.
Undoubtedly, the “Elektrenika” highlight is “Jakby Przez Sen” a gloomy and foggy but still very clubbish song. It might remind you of Alan Braxe bangers but it’s somehow nervous and, actually, pretty hard to define. Well, the deeper we analyze it, the sooner it occurs that in a way it’s also a demanding album… Damn, sorry for that!
Recommended if you like: Daft Punk, Kylie Minogue, Alan Braxe, Moloko
The first album of the Tricity-based Ścianka is one of the most astonishing debuts in the history of Polish rock. “Statek Kosmiczny” (“Spacecraft”) contains more than one hour of music that is, theoretically, packed with contradictions but as soon as you turn it on, you’ll be lost in the overpowering storm of rough tones and extraordinary ideas.
Ścianka was set up in 1994 in Sopot. The band’s distinguishing feature is its uncompromising individualism. When most of Polish bands either follow the trends or play the same old stuff, the group led by Maciek Cieślak remains totally unpredictable thanks to changing its stylistics, method of production and line-up. Before releasing its debut, Ścianka had been, wrongly, considered as part of the jazz-influenced Tricity’s stage, whereas the band’s sound was deeply rooted in American 60′s psychedelic rock and 70′s punk. During the first years of existence, Ścianka’s line up was shaping to crystallize finally as a four-piece band, including Cieślak’s mate – Jacek Lachowicz (keyboard), Arkady Kowalczyk (drums) and Vietnamese Tran Chi (bass). Since then Ścianka started to get some acclaim, performing in a local basement. Although the band had recorded a demo before, the first breakthrough was signing a contract with a local Biodro Records and releasing the debut.
“Statek Kosmiczny” is a dirty, raw and condensed punch in the face of Polish scene of that times. The material contained on the album despises commercial standards and conventional approaches that ruled the Polish scene. The album marries the explosive, highly improvisational noisy jams with mellow, melodious ballads you would play in commercial media. The album’s highlights are krautrock-influenced “Trans-Atlantyk”, purely experimental and a bit pastiche mixture of noise rock with a traditional Polish tune “Czerwone Kozaki” and the most recognizable song on the album – “Skuter”, which presents the manic side of “Statek Kosmiczny” in a nutshell. The mellower and softer character of the album is represented by the instrumental, reflective “Sopot” and “Sopot II” and moving ballad “Piórko”. In this case the outcome of such a mixture is not unpleasantly eclectic but perfectly balanced material, listening of which is not exhausting, despite its intellectual character. Even though the album might be considered as home-recorded, it’s full of interesting (sometimes even surprising) details that make listening to this recording even more unique. Nevertheless, revealing them I’d only spoil the fun.
Due to its short series “Statek Kosmiczny” had been unavailable to buy for years. Fortunately it has been recently remastered and is accessible again. This is, sadly, not the case with Ścianka’s second album, but that’s a totally different story.
Recommended if you like: the Stooges, Sonic Youth, Captain Beefheart, Velvet Underground, Can
Atman imitates the nature, but not in the classical, Vivaldi-like style. In fact, it would be hard to find any common denominator for the artists’ compositions. Has nature changed that much or is it just a New Age?
Actually Atman might be considered not only as a band but even as a scene or movement that was comprising open-minded and extraordinarily skilful musicians interested in ethnic, psychedelic and avant-garde music. From 1975 to 1998 the band, consisting of Marek Styczyński (multi-instrumentalist), Piotr Kolecki (multi-instrumentalist) and Marek Leszczyński (dulcimer, percussions), was cooperating with numerous outstanding artists, who were enriching their recordings. None of them was even close to the mainstream; what is more, most of them played unusual instruments: either imported from the Far East countries or reconstructed in the image of traditional Polish ones. The outcome of using all these oriental instruments is a thick layer of both absorbing and astounding sound. It’s unbelievable that such density was reached with the exclusive use of acoustically generated sound.
The album that presents best Atman’s both intellectual and ritual approach to the folk music is “Tradition“. Sadly, I must admit that, symptomatically, the album met with a very positive reception abroad, whereas in Poland is mainly unknown. Basically tracks contained on “Tradition” might be divided into focused, guitar-driven impulsive songs (“Tensegretty” – which is an exception from the acoustic principle) and highly-psychedelic, oriental jams (16-minutes long “The Talking Meadow (Story)“). Some of the tracks feature a vocalist Anna Nacher, whose vocal interpretations fluctuate from melodeclamation to manic scream.
The evidence of Styczyński’s compositional gift is the cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Third Stone From The Sun“, which is transformed into a solemn Tibetan-like anthem with a marvelous guitar solo. Fortunately though, his music career didn’t stop with Atman’s disbanding. From that time on he has been pursuing his career (along with Anna Nacher) in Magic Carpathians band, which is already a widely-acclaimed project.
Atman’s proposition is a stimulating blend of bacchanal wilderness, Slavic mystery and wisdom that lays in the, nearly forgotten, traditional ceremonies. It’s not your grandparents’ tales and it disturbs.
Recommended if you like: Can, Hash Jar Tempo, Magic Carpathians, avant-garde ethnic music
“Nobody’s Black” – said the leader of Miłość, Tymon Tymański, in one of the interviews. In fact, listening to his band I have serious doubts about Darwin’s theory.
Although from today’s perspective Miłość (which means “Love” in Polish) was definitely a dream-team, back then it was more like a bunch of friends, disobedient youngsters, nonconformist and self-confident musicians. From the very beginning the band was tightly connected with the Tricity’s (Gdańsk, Gdynia, Sopot) alternative scene, inspiring a numerous bands of different genres. Their idea was, basically, not to follow in traditional jazz footsteps. Therefore its music is highly-improvised, independent of the generic limits, intentionally breaking compositions’ schemes. Of course, it would be only a sign of enormous pride, if it wasn’t justified by the musicians’ skills and original artistic vision. But that’s what characterises the biggest bands – the unbreakable will of challenging status quo, the ability to blow up the frames of reality and building them up in a new way.
The music of Miłość is an outcome of the tension between great individualities. Among them, were: classically educated musicians, such as Możdżer (piano) and Sikała (saxophone); insatiable searchers and artistic rebels like Tymański (double bass) and Trzaska (saxophone); and a miserable genius – Olter (his suicidal death made Miłość disbanded). As a result of their music was somehow balanced. A perfectly organized chaos that fluctuates from beautiful melodies (memorable cover of Velvet Underground’s “Venus In Furs”) to furious brass instruments’ solos (spontaneous “A Tribute to Drukpa Kunley”). Due to the members’ innovative attitude (not only towards music), Miłość is being often considered as the godfather of Yass – which is not really a genre but rather a blend of improvised music with jazz, rock and, essentially, everything you find inspiring.
The last album of Miłość “Talkin’ About Life and Death” features the great American trumpeter, member of Art Ensemble of Chicago, Lester Bowie. His parts add a new sooth and mellow dimension to the band’s compostions. The whole album is a great testimony to passion and, indeed, the love of music. Kind of controversial, sometimes pervert, sometimes incomprehensible but always sincere and, basically, immense. Just try it out and get lovesick!
Recommended if you like: Lester Bowie, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Captain Beefheart, Thelonious Monk
“Na Drugim Brzegu Tęczy” is not only a Breakout album but also a breakthrough one.
1969 is a crucial date in the history of rock music. Enough to say that it’s a year when bands like Led Zeppelin, The Stooges, Genesis or King Crimson released their debut albums. Without a doubt it’s also an important date for Polish rock music, especially, thanks to Breakout’s superb album. The band set up in 1968, consisting mostly of, recently disbanded, Blackout members. In the times when “big bit“ bands (highly melodious, easy-listening, Beatles-influenced kind of music) were scoring success, Breakout’s goal was to introduce blues and rock music to the Polish audience. Their first success was managing to organize a tour throughout Benelux countries, which was something really unusual during the communist period. This journey bore fruit as the band was able to get in touch with the contemporary Western music scene and to buy some equipment. Slightly after the artists had come back to Poland, they started to record the debut album. The recording that irreversibly changed the history of Polish music.
The first thing you have to know about “Na Drugim Brzegu Tęczy” (“On The Other Edge Of The Rainbow”) is that it’s neither a typical blues album nor a rock one. It’s, definitely, psychedelic, having the aftertaste of a never-ending improvisation. What you get as a result is a vivid rhythm section (brilliant bass lines), juxtaposed with guitar jams of Tadeusz Nalepa (the band leader) and clear voice of Mira Kubasińska. However, it would still have sounded a bit typical, if a saxophonist – Włodzimierz Nahorny hadn’t contributed on the album. His parts make songs like the title one a unique experience. The whole is proof that musicians of different backgrounds (blues, jazz, big bit, rock) cooperating under the same flag, can cross boundaries and reach the pure beauty.
Even though Breakout managed to remain on stage for a next decade, recording some really good material (“Blues” is the one I can thoroughly recommend), “Na Drugim Brzegu Tęczy” remains a unique, unlimited masterpiece. Paradoxically, it seems like the biggest strength of this album is the fact that on that stage the band hadn’t still shaped its music formula, so the outcome is both hard to define and hard to forget.
Recommended if you like: John Mayall, Gary Moore, Eric Clapton
The history of Kobong – one of the first math metal bands all over the world – is nearly as strange, hard to believe and depressing as the music the band was recording.
On the field of metal music Kobong is, definitely, a nugget. Their pieces might be described as proggresive, mathematic or experimental, but basically in those times nobody was so crazy about tags. Especially, when this avant-garde metal scene had been just shaping, so nobody would have considered what i.e. “math metal” would sound like. In fact, in Kobong’s case, it’s dificult to categorize their music even today, after fifteen years since their debut album was released. Although “Kobong” wasn’t as experimental as its successor, it was a very promising recording, juxtaposing great music harmonies with heavy guitar riffs. As a result, this powerful, well-thought-of and professionally recorded album received very positive acclaim and was even nominated to “Fryderyki” Polish Music Awards (which is very uncommon for a metal band).
That Kobong’s second album was going to be even more artistic had been foretold by the single “Przeciwko”. The song was also used in the Polish soundtrack for “Trainspotting”. Unlike the songs from the debut, it’s a blend of acoustic music, oriental influences and shouting vocals. Even though “Przeciwko” is rather an exception from the group’s traditional stylistic (the version selected for the album is much heavier), it presents the evolving character of Kobong’s music that reached its highest stage on “Chmury Nie Było” (“There Was No Cloud”), which was, unfortunately, also the last album of the band. Released in 1997, the album is a polyrhytmic, highly experimental masterpiece that, undoubtedly, was ahead of its times. Compositions of Sadowski are multidimensional, rhythm-breaking and even a bit scary, while Kondracki is beside himself with singing, shouting and screaming (both in Polish and English).
The legends about Kobong concern not only their outstanding albums but also the circumstances under which the group disbanded. The rumour has it that Kobong had even recorded a demo version of the third album but since it was even more experimental than previous works, the label refused to release it. After disbanding, three members of Kobong started the band Neuma, which, however, hasn’t received such acclaim.
Five years ago Kobong’s main composer and guitarist Robert Sadowski died unexpectedly of heart attack. Altough the band’s reunion is impossible, you should grab “Chmury Nie Było” and check it. Remember, listen out loud!
Recommended if you like: Meshuggah, Mr. Bungle, Gorija, Neurosis.
Kaliber 44 is the legendary group that irreversibly shaped the Polish hip-hop stage. Although the opinions regarding their best album are perfectly divided, I decided to start with “W 63 Minuty Dookoła Świata” (“Around the World in 63 Minutes”) since this great album is probably also the least hermetic one.
It’s impossible to find more meritorious and pioneering hip-hop band in Poland. The trio was set up in the beginnings of the 90′s, being one of the first groups representing this genre. Their first album “Księga Tajemnicza. Prolog” was released in 1996 and is considered to be one of the strangest recordings in Polish hip-hop. The debut’s distinctive feature is its mysterious, psychedelic character expressed in the way of rhyming, lo-fi production, countless unidentified screams and moans recorded in the background and lyrics. The Katowice-based trio’s rap focuses mainly on legalization of marijuana which was, undoubtedly, the band’s biggest muse and inspiration in that period. It is worth underlining that in those days hip-hop was something completely new for the Polish audience and getting the wide acclaim was an incredibly difficult task. Kaliber 44 definitely managed to do that.
Two years had passed and Kaliber 44 was about to release their second album. The expectations aroused after the excellent teaser – the first single “Film” – which is still a bit psychedelic, but much closer to the traditional hip-hop stylistics. Finally the “W 63 Minuty Dookoła Świata” hit the shelves and met with very positive reception, even achieving the gold record status. The lyrics deal with a broad range of topics and the rappers present their skills, playing with words in a witty way. From this album on the band was officially joined by DJ Feel-X, whose scratches made Kaliber’s recordings important not only for Polish hip-hop but turntablism also.
“W 63 Minuty Dookoła Świata” is, unfortunately, the last Kaliber 44 album recorded in the original line-up. Just after the album had been recorded, Piotr “Magik” Łuszcz left the band to set up a new group – Paktofonika. The remaining members of Kaliber 44 have recorded only one more album “3:44″, which is definitely worth recommending. Although the group disbanded ten years ago, its albums remain among the most respected recordings of Polish hip-hop. Even though the history of Polish rap is not as long and colourful as American, such bands cause that there’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Recommended if you like: Gravediggaz, Wu-Tang Clan, The Pharcyde, De La Soul
Aya RL’s debut is an outstanding album in every respect, unfortunately, also in terms of underestimation.
Aya RL was an absolutely outstanding band, even in terms of its line up. Imagine the punk-influenced, anti-regime group with a leader of Russian origin. Even though today it sounds just humorous, back then it must have been a bit risky for the band’s credibility. Nevertheless, the choice must have been obvious as Igor Czerniawski was the most experienced and recognizable person among the artists who were to set up Aya RL. The musicians met during the illustrious Jarocin festival, which was known for its punkish, anti-communist character. And here comes another of Aya RL’s distinguishing features: unparalleled range of inspirations, brought about by extraordinary knowledge of the Western music’s trends of their times. Therefore, while listening to the untitled debut album (widely known as “The Red Album“) you may expect an artistic blend of punk, new wave, pop and electronic music, combined only by the mysterious aura of recordings and poetic lyrics.
The opening track (“Księżycowy Krok”) already proves an extremely high artistic level of “The Red Album”. The powerful, breath-taking voice of Paweł Kukiz is contrasted against the minimalistic, spatial background. Actually, it might remind you of David Bowie’s Berlin trilogy, while choruses somehow refer to the British New Wave scene (if Human League was ten times more subdued). And this is only the opening track and it’s even harder to say whether it is a representative one or not. For example, the song that follows (“Nasza Ściana”) is a dehumanized cold-wave anthem, while the next by rotation (“Czy to oni”) starts with the ambient-like intro just to erupt with the raging protest song. The other characteristic feature are references to the German electronic-rock music. Therefore some may say that songs like “Polska” could have appeared on the one of Tangerine Dream’s albums. Although it all sounds a bit eclectic, I have to say that the spirit of “The Red Album” makes this recording a very coherent one.
Despite the fact that “The Red Album” is said to be the only outstanding album in Aya RL‘s discography, the subsequent career of the artists is worth mentioning as it proves the band’s uniqueness. While Paweł Kukiz – the band singer and drummer, has become a well-known pop artist, Igor Czerniawski started a producer’s career, getting more and more anonymous for a wider audience. His merits on this field can’t be overestimated also, as he’s co-responsible for a number of great recordings, including the most promising Polish electro-pop singer – Ramona Rey. And that’s what versatility is all about.
Recommend if you like: The Jam, David Bowie, Tangerine Dream, The Fall
The already legendary debut of Wrocław’s most skilful beat-makers is also a tribute to the glorious history of Polish jazz. The course of Skalpel‘s career is a typical American-dream story. While they were once performing in a club, they attracted DJ Vadim, whose attendance at the party was nothing but a pure coincidence. As it turned out a little bit later, it was an incredible stroke of luck and the beginning of the international career. Surprisingly for Polish DJ’s (Skalpel consists of Marcin Cichy and Igor Pudło), when the show was over, the famous hip-hop producer accosted them and offered a common tour throughout Poland – and this was the first offer they couldn’t refuse.
The tour was successful to such an extent that Vadim had no doubts about recommending Skalpel to the prominent London-based label – Ninja Tune. After a while the duo sent their works to the record’s headquarters. The demo album “Polish Jazz” was very well received, therefore Skalpel was even asked to take part in a popular BBC broadcast – Ninja Solid Steel. From this time on, their music has been highly promoted both in the UK and Poland. Finally, the date of Skalpel’s debut was revealed – 31st of March 2004.The self-titled album is a dusty, mysterious, blend of smoky jazz and modern, polished beats. “Skalpel’s” strength lies, not only in the nearly ideal selection of samples taken from Polish jazz recordings from the 60′s and 70′s, but also in the precision in combining them and complementing with smart beats. The album’s spirit is built also by the dialogues taken from the old movies that occasionally feature the melody. “Skalpel” is the album that, despite containing both cheerful and melancholic tunes, creates a particular, homogeneous vision. That’s why, whenever you listen to these pieces, they’re taking you back to the seedy, dark, smoky clubs of the 70′s. Though, not the low-priced ones, so be prepared and have your suit ready at hand.
Recommended if you like: Herbaliser, The Cinematic Orchestra, Mr. Scruff, Prefuse 73
Divealone is a solo project of Piotr Maciejewski – a guitarist of a Polish indie-rock band Muchy. Nevertheless, it’s hard to find something in common between these artistic visions. The only common denominator in here is quality.
Although Maciejewski has been recording music for years, releasing “Letitout” EP in 2007 put some spotlight on his works. The second factor that helped him in getting to the media was the constantly rising popularity of his mother band. Despite that, “Letitout” remains an officially unreleased album – you can only get from the internet. Why is it so? Well, most likely, because of its incredible intimacy, even fragility and references to the bands unknown to the average Polish listener. “Start to Bother” is a good example here. This great track might remind you of Built to Spill’s early works or some of Death Cab for Cutie songs, although Maciejewski’s singing manner is even more distant and reserved. Due to the mood “Letitout” arouses, you may consider it as a subtle reminiscence of the greatest emo bands, including, Sunny Day Real Estate. Remember though that Drivealone is a one-man band, so its music is much more minimalist in terms of arrangements.
The key to understanding Drivealone‘s lies in the famous Mark Hollis advice: “Before you play two notes learn how to play one note – and don’t play one note unless you’ve got a reason to play it.” Therefore, these five songs, being pleasantly melodious, contain no inessential notes or ornaments. There are marvellous music outlines that would lose their whole beauty, while being completed. For example, the drum machine with its flat sound only emphasizes the cold album’s atmosphere. The guitar sometimes plays the leading role but it will never turn into a heavy riff. In fact, as soon as it catches our attention, it hides in the background, leaving us in a state of permanent insatiability (“The First Collapse“). This process of not fulfilling, just created, tension may remind you of a stunning debut album of Slint.
Finding a band which, vividly, has influenced Drivealone is a demanding task. I could say that “Letitout” might have suited the Kranky’s catologue (somewhere between Labradford and Benoit Pioulard) but it wouldn’t be the only possible answer. To excuse myself I would say that someone, who is recording a remix of a Xiu Xiu song, can’t be an average/normal musician.
Please note that RadioWroclove.com bears no responsibility for sadness evoked during listening of this masterpiece.
Recommended if you like: Sunny Day Real Estate, Slint, Built to Spill, Benoit Pioulard
In Orwell’s symbolic 1984, there was an artistic declaration of independence released. It was entitled “Klaus Mitffoch” and it was focusing on a wide range of the problems of those days. Apart from that it consisted of marvelous raw punkish compositions.
The debut of young Wrocław-based band is considered as one of the finest albums in the history of Polish rock. Klaus Mitffoch took the opportunity, winning the National Tournament of Young Talents in 1983 and signing a contract for releasing two singles. Both of them brought Klaus Mitffoch fans all over Poland. Especially the song “Jezu jak się cieszę” and “Ogniowe strzelby” – which was a reference to the famous The Clash song – “Guns of Brixton”. Due to the very positive reception, the band shortly after signing a contract with Tonpress records (the label that had already been releasing albums of several well-known Polish rock bands, including Brygada Kryzys, Perfect and Lady Punk). The release of the self-titled album aroused the same controversy as the Republika debut had done a year before – the most famous songs were not included.
“Klaus Mitffoch” consists of sixteen songs full of metaphors concerning the contemporary political situation, opportunism and the fear of the future. Having in mind how the censorship was constraining Polish author’s idea, it’s surprising that Klaus Mitffoch managed to enclose such a message in its songs. Although the lyrics written by Lech Janerka are so important, some may say even fundamental to understand a phenomenon of Klaus Mitffoch debut, the album wouldn’t have got such a great reception without the powerful, punkish arrangements. The Wrocław-based band’s compositions are raw, cold-wavish with a fundamental importance of bass sound. Klaus Mitffoch songs often break their rhythm, switching from typical, pulsating punk melodies to slower-paced, sometimes even experimental, pieces. “Klaus Mitffoch” is an example of a highly artistic and individual interpretation of British punk music. It turned out that this genre, disobedient by nature, found its place perfectly in the sad circumstances of communist’s regime.
Klaus Mitffoch broke up shortly after the outstanding debut. Fortunately, the leader – Lech Janerka, pursued his solo career, releasing at least one more stunning album. But we’ll bring it closer another day, for today just check out Klaus Mitffoch.
Recommended if you like: the Clash, Gang Of Four, Buzzcocks, Republika
Michał Jacaszek’s “Treny” is an ambitious interpretation of the Renaissance’s laments written in the 16th century by the Polish poet – Jan Kochanowski. Although the album doesn’t contain the lyrics, it arouses the same emotions.
You’ll probably agree that most of the remakes are either dull or overstated. Especially if the original is a widely acclaimed masterpiece that, what is more, belongs to the different category of art. For all these reasons, Jacaszek‘s attempt might have been considered as a result of his irrepressible pride or even an artistic sacrilege. But it shouldn’t be any longer, as the outcome is a stirring, perfectly composed album.
Till releasing “Treny”, Michał Jacaszek had remained nearly anonymous, being recognizable only by the most inquiring followers of electronic music in Poland. Even though his “Lo Fi Stories” received some critical acclaim, the artist was still far from reaching a wider audience. Jacaszek’s compositions those days, combining elements of lo-fidelity jazz, ambient, and samples of old fairytales, seemed to be too demanding for an average listener. Moreover the material itself was a bit chaotic and incoherent. Fortunately the label realizing the composer (Gustaff Records), didn’t lose its faith, continuously supporting Jacaszek and his alternative ideas. One of them was to invite some professional, classical musicians and record an album influenced by the contemporary classical gurus like Arvo Part or Max Richter.
Compositions chosen for “Treny” are minimalistic, cold and slow-paced. They consist of slightly distorted, ambient backing-tracks, delicate strings arrangements that are juxtaposed, but not in every piece, with ethereal vocals of Maja Siemińska. Clips, noises, loops, reverbs -they’re all used in here but with a brilliant taste that protects from the sin of exaggeration. Generally speaking, “Treny” avoids sentimentalism and pathos thanks to the balance between mournful sound of the strings and absorbing evolution of coldhearted backgrounds (think of Stars Of The Lid). Even if the songs’ titles refer to the Polish Renaissance poems, you won’t have any problems in comprehending this album. Exciting reviews published by opinion-making worldwide blogs and music services (Cokemachineglow, Allmusic, The Silent Ballet) only prove this theory. Not only for daydreamers but for everybody who’s concerned with the mixture of tradition and modernity.
Outside Poland “Treny” is distributed by the Norwegian-based Miasmah Records.
Recommended if you like: Max Richter, Stars Of The Lid, Arvo Part, Dead Can Dance
Although there is no doubt that the communistic regime stagnated the Polish music scene, there were still some brilliant albums released during this period. The debut of the post-punk band Republika was nothing but a laudable example.
Republika made its first steps as an art-rock band that resembled the likes of Jethro Tull, but soon changed its style due to changes in the line-up and poor commercial reception. Lucky us, because otherwise we would have never heard about the genius of Grzegorz Ciechowski, who became a leader of the band after this chaotic period. The first epithet that comes to mind while thinking about this musician is “neurotic”, both in terms of his claustrophobic, metaphorical lyrics, as well as his unique way of singing. It’s hard to believe that such a gifted person was accepted into Republika only due to his flute playing skills. Nevertheless, his use of this instrument remains the band’s distinctive feature.
It was 1982 and the first songs by Republika were getting a very positive reception all over Poland, being promoted even by the Polish public radio. Therefore, it shouldn’t be surprising that the debut record released soon after was one of the most anticipated albums of those times. Eventually, “Nowe Sytuacje” (“New Situations”) hit the shelves and… failed to meet these high expectations. None of the already beloved songs appeared on the album, which consisted only of previously unknown pieces. Fortunately, with the passing of time, it turned out that this risky move was actually an ingenious one.
Although “New Situations” was a debut album, it presented Republika as an already mature, well-established and highly artistic band. A signature, pulsating rhythm section (think of Joy Division or Gang Of Four) was a perfect base for punkish riffs, manic singing and unpredictable flute parts. The outcome was highly listenable and even catchy, which was quite an achievement, if we take into consideration how experimental this album was in comparison with an average recording from the early 80′s. All these features made “New Situations” an album that, despite the passing of time, still sounds fresher than most contemporary rock music.
“New Situations” is also available in an English-language version, which was released under the title “1984″.
Recommended if you like: Joy Division, Gang Of Four, The Chameleons, Television
Music Blog by Janek Błaszczak
Elevator is a new RWL Blog destined for all of you who love music but still aren’t into the contemporary Polish scene. With “Elevator” we will try to bring both the history of Polish music and current releases closer to you. No matter whether it’s hip-hop, rock or electronics – we’re here, just to pick some good tunes and elevate them a bit.
Let’s begin with probably the best Polish hip-hop album of the year – “Lavorama” of Ortega Cartel. The band was founded in 2003,and their first official album has been released this year. Nevertheless the duo, consisting of Patr00 (producer) and Piter (rapper), has got some acclaim with underground releases and supporting the Canadian-based rapper – Jesse Maxwell – with outstanding beats (better check “Season One” by The Jonesz). But honestly, even with these facts no one could have predicted that “Lavorama” would be such a success.
One of the strongest points of “Lavorama” it’s its spontaneity and sincerity. Every single track proves that Piter and Patr00 have a passion for hip-hop and recording of this album was an enormous pleasure for them. Even without understanding the lyrics you might get the impression of absolute joy that made them not bother with commercial standards (e.g. duration – the album lasts nearly 80 minutes!). The second feature of “Lavorama” that makes it one of the best hip-hop album of the year are beats. Undoubtedly, within a year or two Patr00 has become the most respected producer in this country. In fact, “Lavorama”‘s backing-tracks are not the “backing” ones, as they sometimes play a role of equal importance as the rhyming. Patr00′s beats are on the one hand warm and upbeat, on the other precise and multidimensional, often sampling great jazz or soul tunes (like an opener “Miami Vice”).
In order to complete this epic (more than 30 songs) album, Piter and Patr00 asked a number of their hip-hop colleagues for support. As a result, about a half of the tracks features guests connected with both underground and mainstream stage. What is more, some of the songs were written by Ortega’s mates from Canada (both Piter and Patr00 have been living there for a few years), including Jesse Maxwell – known from The Jonesz. If you still have some reservations, brought about by the idea of hip-hop being only about the lyrics, forget about them to find out that the only language that matters is an affectation for rap. And that’s pretty international.
Recommended if you like: hip-hop, Jay Dilla, Pharcyde, Blackalicious