Nice Cliques – Populra Art

Modern Soviet music. Not the most common thing to hear around these western parts, unless you’re a rabid t.A.T.u fan (I know I was. 14 yr old boy + THAT video? Instantly hooked). In fact, t.A.T.u are the only example of well-known Russian music I can think of since Shostakovitch. And that’s truly a shame. It’s a hideously real example of the damage politics can do to our everyday lives.

Thank god then that Nice Cliques have slipped through the cracks and landed, albeit digitally, in our laps. A four piece from Saratov in Western Russia, they’ve cottoned on to something quite different. They cite King Crimson as one of their biggest influences, and there’s a definite progressive slant on Populra Art, but it’s definitely not the whole story. Opera, metal, math-rock, pop, and even chillwave all make their mark on this tight little 12 strong collection. At first listen it can sound a little like an over-ambitious jam band, but given a couple of goes round there’s a compression of thought here which is really pleasing.

Take the excellent ‘Disco 2010’ for example. A Muse-y verse bleeds into a hopping ska chorus, then into a deliciously unnecessary guitar solo. Or ‘Closed’, which is so much like Jethro Tull in parts you start smelling flute – except for the punky shouts of “1, 2, 3, 4”, and the bizarre James Bond breaks. The instrumentals throughout are excellent, especially the piano and organ, and the expanse of thought is amazing. Oh crap. I’m raving. But it’s a fucking good album.

There are problems, particularly the production, which feels limited and doesn’t really allow the full ambition of the sound to come through. The backing vocals could also do with a heavy dose of tuning up. But at core this is a really well put together batch of songs from a really well put together batch of musicians. Here’s to hoping Oxford can meet them in the flesh sometime soon.