a closer listen

Stuzha ~ Siberian Sketches II

The door squeaks and opens; the raging blizzard fills the ears.  Stuzha slams the door and heads out with his acoustic guitar, trudging through the snow, his hands growing more frozen as he walks.  At a certain point, it’s too cold; he retreats back to the safety of his cabin.  He warms himself by the fire as a train passes gently and a dog barks at the snow.  These are the images we imagine while listening to the opening track of Siberian Sketches II, a wonderfully evocative blend of field recordings and instrumentation.  And it only gets better from there.

2008’s Through the Snowfield appeared on our list The 25 Best Winter Albums of All Time, and the Siberian artist has been tinkering with the set ever since, most impressively on Siberian Sketches, first released in 2011 and re-issued in 2016 with bonus tracks.  The approach is similar to that of graphic artist David Mack, who continues to update his Kabuki project, fleshing it out each time.  “Lost in the Catacombs” appears in some fashion on three of the releases; “Here is no Life without a Fire” (the artist’s best track) finally re-surfaces here after a decade.  The artist has also wandered back to the winter path.  Siberian Sketches was a winter set, but the reissued version (still available in a wooden box set) was inspired by autumn.  Siberian Sketches II returns to the snow and ice, nearly every title referring to the frozen season.  The irony, perhaps inspired by nostalgia, is that the artist no longer resides in Siberia, now making his home in the U.K.

The largest change is the preponderance of field recordings, which were always the biggest draw, but have now been moved to a starring role.  We enjoy hearing those footsteps throughout the recording, along with continued crackle, wind and roar.  “Here is no Life without a Fire” is still the centerpiece, but Siberian Sketches II offers more of everything that makes this piece so memorable, spread over the course of nearly an hour.  The “Winter Forest” triptych is especially crisp, its acoustic warmth a clear contrast to the conditions outside.  The artist closes with a short segment of singing, leaving the impression that he’s not only prepared for winter, he’s looking forward to it.  (Richard Allen)