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Lilac Day by Leonid Fedorov

Lilac Day by Leonid Fedorov

Lilac Day by Leonid Fedorov

Leonid Fedorov’s Lilac Day is an incredible album that reminds me of Neil Young’s sound track for Jarmusch’s Dead Man, Schnittke’s polystylism, and tunes from Yiddishe folk songs.

When I first listened to the album Lilac Day by Leonid Fedorov, I set my Sonos system erroneously to play the tracks in alphabetical order, starting with “Babulya.” Incidentally, “Babulya” turned out to be the album’s weirdest song by far, but somehow it was perfect to set the mood. The only thing I can come up with to try and describe this track’s effect—though more by analogy than any kind of tangible similarity—is Neil Young’s distorted and disturbing guitar accompaniment to Jim Jarmusch’s Western movie Dead Man, floating in and out with the rhythm of the train that transports “William Blake” across endless progressions of cheerless landscapes to a goodness-forsaken place where the only things in store for him are ever more travels and travails of utter senselessness, on a trajectory into the bleakest territories of the land and of the mind. And even if correctly played as the album’s third track instead of its first, “Babulya” serves said purpose of setting the mood exceptionally well—the only difference being that after the first two tracks one might be inclined to feel existentially safe, in the sense of “belonging to” or “having arrived at” a safe or at least familiar place, after which “Babulya” guarantees a rude awakening not unlike that experienced by Blake when he arrives at the place quite aptly called “Machine.” And indeed, both the next-to-last track “Lilac Day,” the album’s title song, and the final track “Yakorya” are again strongly rhythmically reminiscent of a train ride into nothingness.

Bleak territories of the land and of the mind, indeed, seem to be what this album is about. I say “seem” because I don’t have the faintest idea of what the lyrics are about. These might be traditional folk lyrics or poems by the modernist poet Alexander Vvedensky of whom Fedorov is exceptionally fond—and who, according to Wikipedia, considered his late-avantgarde poetry as “a critique of reason more powerful than Kant’s.” And of unreasonableness, there’s indeed plenty on this album to be found. For me, personally, this overall effect of dislocation—things being not quite where they should be, or willfully disregarding Parmenides’s (or Aristotle’s) Law of Identity—is introduced by the album’s scales and tunes which always feel vaguely familiar but never settle in that “familiar place” mentioned above. It’s as if Yiddishe folk tunes, originating from my expectations, were accelerated in a Large Harmony Collider to near-light speed and smashed against the Russian folk tunes originating from the album, leaving me to sort out what’s really happening by analyzing the debris.

But even without this rather idiosyncratic interference, there’s plenty of what can be called solidly “off” even by far less subjective assessments. Fedorov’s voice slightly trails in key and meter as if constantly bogged down by a strong gravitational field; the tuning of his steel-string acoustic guitar is struggling and straining to meet the songs’ respective keys; and the samples—sometimes staying menacingly in the background, sometimes infiltrating the song and bending and transforming its texture in scary ways, sometimes invading aggressively and taking over like the signal from a nearby and more powerful radio station—are completely off in genre, mood, and style. Now if that happens to sound suspiciously like an art folk equivalent to a Concerto grosso piece by Alfred Schnittke, yes, that’s what comes to mind. Here too, all these seemingly unrelated and wildly incongruous pieces skillfully, magically, integrate into artistic unity.

Fedorov, Leonid. Lilac Day. Moskau: Geometriya, 2003.
Фёдоров, Леонид. Лиловый день. Москва: Геометрия, 2003.
This review was originally published at RYM and appeared as a featured review from November 19–23, 2008, on the RYM front page.
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