Thanks to Moscow’s ГШ, 1979 has never sounded so good
We left warm dorms, turned up worn collars to protect from West Broadway winter wind, Cuban heels clacking, echoing in shuttered Soho. We took two steps up and four steps down to cellars full of smoke and people just like us. We then stood in low-ceilinged tomb-blue saloons, pale skeletons in black jeans and blazers from Goodwill, ten after one yet never tired, coughing from the fog of Merits and squinting against the Witch Hazel bite of cheap vodka. The DJ played “Ain’t You” and “At Home He’s A Tourist.”
We watched paler unsmiling skeletons from across an ocean hop broken-necked across tiny stages, bands full of lantern-jawed blue-haired woman with swimmer’s shoulders and C-backed boys with bangs and burst lips. We watched bands that sizzled like frying pans, moaning cooing caterwauling stomping, Czukay funk and slinky transformer arc guitars. The DJ played “Primary” and “Part Time Punks.” The night was plugged in, Canal Street was wide under low skies and lit by the starlight of sooty streetlamps and wet coffee shop windows. We had jaded thought balloons and innocent eyes brown and green, and the music was perfect: nervous, slim, shaking, shimmering, simmering and sexy. We were impossibly young and every night we danced downtown like the paper Halloween ghouls that had dangled on the suburban porches we had fled with youth’s blinders and cruelty. The DJ played “Totally Wired” and “Too Many Creeps.” It was the wintry springtime of our lives, that narrow moment when you are old enough to nearly live on your own but too young to know that even that there are a finite number of perfect late autumn nights.
Post-Punk is often thought of as a place between places, a dissonant punctuation mark between the slobber of punk and the polished Nagel-ism of MTV.
AUDIO: The 500 Greatest Post-Punk (Songs) Playlist – Joy Division – “Love Will Tear Us Apart Again”
But Post-Punk was, in fact, a perfect moment in rock history. It was a fabulously brief and fertile slash of time when punk needed to explore what was left standing after the Wall of Sound was taken down, but before alternative music threw in its lot with synthetic dance music. It was a moment of true genius alchemy that produced some of the greatest, most inventive, and most affecting music of the post-Beatles era. Consider, for instance, the Pet Sounds-like achievement of PiL’s Metal Box (and the Smiley Smile dumb angelics of Flowers of Romance); the near perfection of Wire’s first three albums; the Cure’s quasi-Floydian quicksand slow masterpiece, Faith; Joy Division’s shocking merger of punk and Krautrock; the affecting, emotive, sighs and chimes of the Raincoats; or the heartbeat, goosebump-inducing breath-puff of Young Marble Giants. This was small ensemble plugged-in rock at its very best.
Although they worked under the umbrella of Post Punk, these artists actually fully realized the potential of punk. Punk, you see, play-acted reinvention, but retained ample ties to its sloppy, slurring, snarling, burping, boogie roots (Ronson, Thunders, Stooges, Feelgoods, Modern Lovers, Velvets, T. Rex an’ all that). It was goddamn wonderful, but punk was not a revolution: It was a market correction. However, the brief and vital age of Post Punk represents the true revolt, without the affectation of style.
(Oh, I am dating this “brief and vital age” roughly from the first releases by PiL and Magazine and the second album release by Wire — all in middish 1978 — to the release of the Cure’s fourth album, Pornography, in 1982 [their last album to be really dipped in the arpeggiated Benadryl haze of art, minimalism, ambience and depression]. We will also note that this extraordinary moment in music likely does not get its due in the United States, since some of it’s most important records were barely released – if released at all – in the U.S.)
Now, all of this makes the following remarkable:
ГШ (formerly — and sometimes still — known as Glintshake), a relatively new-ish band from Moscow, are making some of the best pure Post Punk music of all time, regardless of what the calendar says. Their 2016 album ОЭЩ МАГЗИУ (transliterated from the Cyrillic as Oesch Magziu) showcases a nearly perfect Post Punk band that have morphed the jagged minimalism characteristic of the movement with its potential for loss-limbed emotionalism. I can think of very, very few examples of an artist making one of the best albums in a genre over thirty-five years since the heyday of that genre; but ОЭЩ МАГЗИУ is just that: One of the very best Post Punk albums you have ever heard. Rather than treating Post Punk with the smirk of revivalism, ГШ approach it fresh and frantic, validating it as a living genre.
Since ГШ’s career arc poses both linguistic and chronological confusion, let’s note a few important things: First, ОЭЩ МАГЗИУ/Oesch Magziu, despite being nearly three years old, is only now widely available on streaming services, and therefore essentially being promoted as a new album. The renewed high profile of ОЭЩ МАГЗИУ, along with the extraordinary quality of the music, merits that we treat it as a new release, even if that’s not entirely accurate. Secondly: Glintshake (who are, for all intents and purposes ГШ) formed in 2012. In 2015, Glintshake announced that they would be singing entirely in the native Russian, and henceforth going by the Cyrillic — i.e., Russian alphabet — name ГШ. Although technically I believe Glintshake no longer exists, in most English language promotion/streaming/sales sites, both names are used. This all causes a minor degree of confusion. Third: Do not ask me how the heck you pronounce ГШ.
ГШ (and the fleet, skidding, slinky, cracking, creaking, thwacking and fizzling sounds on ОЭЩ МАГЗИУ) are deeply – almost exclusively – influenced by a core group of frantic mechanics. These include Pylon (who seem to be an absolutely fundamental palette here), Au Pairs, Gang of Four, Delta Five, Kleenex/Lilliput, and Josef K, with a little shade from Pere Ubu, This Heat, and PiL. ГШ have narrowcasted a brief and very fruitful slice of musical history and emerged with an honest to fucking god classic of the genre, resulting in a nearly perfect Post Punk record. I appreciate detailed and loving genre re-creation as much as the next guy (after all, Thee Milkshakes are one of my all-time favorite bands), but ГШ have none, I mean zero, of the stink of revivalism. On ОЭЩ МАГЗИУ, ГШ sound as if they come to the genre fresh, as an honest expression of joy, desire, frustration, and love for the sparking mystery that can happen when punk is broken and reassembled.
ОЭЩ МАГЗИУ is both claustrophobic and expansive. Like Gang of Four and the Au Pairs, ГШ translate Adderall piss-shakes and economic frustration into sound; and like Pylon, Wobble-era PiL, and pre-KROQ Cure, there are long, vocal-less stretches, and a sense of almost planetarium spaciousness. ГШ (Ekaterina Shilonosova on vocals, Yevgeni Gorbunov on guitar, Yegor Sargsyan on bass, and Alexey Yevlanov on drums) also play with that same sense of celebration – we are here! – and desperation – we are here! – that the original Post Punk artists had, the best of whom seemed to find a nearly romantic vocabulary for political and social tension. The triumph of emotionalism over imitation and the real-time resonance of ГШ is largely due to the vocalist Shilonosova. Her alto — alternately resembling a soothing bell and an alerting reed instrument — has a purity and power that will conjure memories of both Kate Bush and Lene Lovich. However, it is most similar to (and at times indistinguishable from) the sweet clarion call of Pylon’s Vanessa Briscoe Hay, one of our era’s most underrated and influential vocalists and frontpersons.
I can attest to the fact that ГШ has made a truly classic Post Punk album. But is that sound as valid today as it was forty years ago?
I am biased, so I’m probably not the right person to ask. Post Punk was not only the idealized sound and social milieu of my youth, but it was also the aural, artistic, and stylistic platform on which I built my tastes. I worked backwards from Post Punk to inhale the genre’s primary forefathers, like Neu!, Can, Roedelius, Kraftwerk, and Beefheart; I trekked forward from Post Punk to work as a musician with Glenn Branca and Hugo Largo, and to develop a musical world view that combined minimalism with invention. That perspective still dominates my tastes, whether I’m listening to Caterina Barbieri, the Snakerattlers, or Sunn O))).
But the genre – as expressed, nearly perfectly in the burnt edges and silky centers of ОЭЩ МАГЗИУ – remains deeply powerful, affecting, valid, and fresh. It still scratches with feline precision and claws that tear at the soul; it still soars with city beauty and city ugly, as both Manchester and Moscow must and always will; it still points out the foamy silence of the eternal stars while asking you to embrace the churn and hum of decaying industry.
VIDEO: ГШ (Glintshake) performance on KEXP