Album Review: Shortparis – Yablonnyj Sad

[Universal; 2021]

Shortparis, the avant-pop outfit originally from Novokuznetsk, Russia, continue their sonic experiments on their fourth LP Yablonnyj Sad (‘Apple Orchard’). It’s been a little less than two years since the release of their most critically acclaimed album Tak zakalyalas stal, which saw them delivering their most socially-charged lyrics alongside unique, but fairly easily digestible instrumentals.

The tracks here on Yablonnyj Sad are a bit more complex in their structures and vocally more experimental. Instrumentally, they feel a lot more chaotic than ever before, yet a more or less clear structure is always perceptible. Meanwhile, it seems that the singer, Nikolai Komyagin, aimed to incorporate almost Gregorian chanting-style singing, which blends very interestingly with the avant-pop sonic textures.

In some places, Yablonnyj Sad makes clear links to Shortparis’ influences. Seventh track, “Polovina”, feels almost like a modern rendition of early Depeche Mode. “Nashe Delo Zrelo” and “Dvadtsat” have a post-metal vibe to their core, which is enveloped in weird and screeching synthesizers.

Shortparis are known for their frequent usage of common pop rhythms, which was one of the reasons why their unique sound found a wider appeal than that of many other experimental artists. On Yablonnyj Sad, those rhythms are also very present, however, the other synthesized sounds are quite often drown them out, a technique they use to their advantage. If their previous album could be characterized as a consistent compilation of catchy bangers, then this record is a lot more blended with itself, and is not as easy to separate into bombastic tracks — it is an album that provides the best experience when listened to in full.

Shortparis is made up of visual artists-turned-musicians, which is one of the reasons why their music tends to be multi-dimensional. The way they tease new music is either by posting new photos or new art that they have created. The music video for “Govorit Moskva” (translated as “Moscow speaking”) sees the band members going through military training, which is a comment on the increasing militarization of Russia. Additionally, the new album sees them paying tribute to one of the best Russian poets of the 20th century, Osip Mandelstam, on “Eta Noch Nepopravima”.

One aspect that never seems to be lost with Shortparis is the transcending of the language barrier. Their debut album was sung entirely in French, and at the time of its release it seemed that it was a rather arrogant gesture, but when all of their subsequent releases came out in Russian it became clear that with their experiment with French they were just proving their capability to create music that can be appreciated by anyone. As a Russian speaker, I can vouch that their lyrics are not exactly the most straightforward expressions of thought that one could come across. They seem to put an emphasis on two things: abstractness of lyrical content and the sonic properties of words. Their lyrics definitely cannot be interpreted correctly or incorrectly — only personally. While there is a clear message in the video for “Moscow speaking”, when the track is perceived only sonically, it evokes different emotions (the same goes for listening to it within and outside of the album). For people who cannot understand Russian, Shortparis leave an experience (that I am quite envious of) of pure sonic beauty of language over some of the most inventive instrumentals in contemporary music.