Album Review: Synecdoche Montauk – Acume

[Random Drama; 2023]

Synecdoche Montauk is a London-based Russian musician whose approach to experimental pop always contains an aura of sadness. What is so compelling about the artist born Savva Rozanov’s music is even in its seeming weightlessness these always a serious note which makes the listening experience be both lighthearted and have a rather sorrowful aftertaste. It is reminiscent of the state of mind that a person is in when nothing seemingly happened, but they’re overtaken with sadness nonetheless.

ACUME is a move in different direction. While it still contains the same lightness mixed with melancholy, it seems to be more chaotic than his previous records. Previously, Synecdoche Montauk would utilise unconventional song structures but the records were very coherent and somehow bound together. Rozanov’s new album goes for more obvious tropes, which is likely related to the fact that this record’s origins are from during the pandemic. It was a time when, at least mentally, going back to something familiar was among the most common methods of coping with the dire circumstances. More so than usually, Synecdoche Montauk’s vocals are reminiscent of James Blake which gives the music on ACUME more of a British feel.

This album is built in a manner that creates some cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, it feels chaotic and broad, but on the other the tracks on it are inarguably related. The same goes for some stylistic choices, such as a female voice repeating the word ‘bitch’ over and over at the end of the closing track “Bitch Face”, or the acoustic guitars with lots of effects in the midst of a seemingly fully electronic album, or the weird scream effect at the beginning of “Invisible Weight”.

These elements arouse a range of emotions between surprise and annoyance, but for the most part — confusion. ACUME feels a bit like digitalisation similar to that portrayed in the original Ghost in the Shell. That seems intentional, as Synecdoche Montauk navigates confusion and reality, discerning between artificiality and sincerity in a way seems to beg the question: “What is it that I feel?” Or “Do I truly feel it?” Savva Rozanov was still working on this album when the full-scale war in Ukraine began, which influenced the confusion of this record further. All these themes that used to be related to the pandemic-inspired weariness appeared to be quite fitting to the world after February of 2022.

The lyrics on ACUME are quite important, especially in the way they synergise with the melodies of other instruments, but at the same time it almost feels like there are two albums playing at once. There is one that Russian speakers hear and can understand, and there is a sonic world that listeners that don’t speak the language experience. Themes of childhood and easier days conveyed in the lyrics paint the sonic landscape as that of nostalgia, whereas listeners that don’t understand them will most likely hear music in the way described on the first paragraph of this review: weightlessness with a sad aura to it.

ACUME seems to be the first record in Synecdoche Montauk’s new musical chapter, which is why it is rough around the edges and quite chaotic. At the same time these aspects are quite fitting for the modern landscape. On the one hand, one feels the desire to ask Rozanov to have spent more time on this record, but on the other hand there is a charm to the lack of polish. Maybe there’s no need for something meticulously curated these days.