The new summer-themed album from Cherepovets musician Valotihkuu is so endearing that it sent us in search of his earlier works. Whitelabrecs writes that it signed the Russian artist after falling in love with last year’s Spring And All. When we looked up that album, we encountered an incredible deal: 11 EPs and albums for 11 dollars! Don’t hesitate, this is like Christmas in June. Listening to the releases in order (along with a couple that have all but disappeared from the internet), one can trace the origins of Fragile Melodies, while marveling at the evolution of Denis Davydov.
The artist has been recording since 2009, but his first Bandcamp appearance is 2012’s Hyperstatic Rainbows. Here we can already note some of the themes that will be present throughout his discography: beauty, nature and time. Field recordings of birds and sea are present, along with a vibe that borders on new age. Synths set the tone, and the mastering is decidedly lo-fi, a condition rectified with time as the artist likes to pour his proceeds into new recording equipment. But there’s also a bit of tape wobble on “Electric Rills Pt. 2”, an element that will disappear for a while before returning with a quiet vengeance. “Foggy Weather” and “Deep Tone” introduce thick expanses of drone.
While there’s a three-year gap between releases on Bandcamp, the artist was not on hiatus; the unusual Radio Tropica followed, an 18-minute exercise in – you guessed it – tropicana and radio waves. A reliance on drums puts this outside the rest of the artist’s oeuvre, perhaps the reason for excision; it seems like the work of a different person. The same is true for Palermo High Places, remnants of a path abandoned.
Righting his course, the artist returned to the ambient road with A New Beginning, a release whose title now makes sense in light of the sonic side trip; and Morning Calm, packaged together by Russian label VVI as Sleep Tones. Extended Hammock-like tones make their first appearance, and the mastering is decidedly improved. The second half of “Sunrise Lullaby” is particularly striking, as chords cede space to lovely chimes. Then there’s another outlier: the dark single The Vision of Grim Waters, a collaboration with Velkómnirheíma that combines the best attributes of each artist, the latter contributing bowed guitar.
We’re in the end run now, as Valotihkuu finds his voice. 2016’s In a Garden is the first release with a clear sonic connection to Fragile Melodies. The thickness of timbre has increased, along with the manipulation of loops. “Amber Light” sounds like an entire kingdom of flora and fauna, frolicking in filtered light. The chimes return on “Garden Spirits,” signs of a sound worth keeping. “Fell Asleep in a Trees Lounge” is a natural forerunner of “Sitting on the Grass Under the Stars” from Fragile Melodies. The guitar of “Early Summer” is warm and inviting, and the artist finally invites drums back into the studio for the last 40 seconds of “Sinking Flowers”, a fine choice.
Having already addressed summer, Valotihkuu turns his attention to fall in Lost in the Beautiful Noise, picking up the thread of The Vision of Grim Waters with bowed cello. For the first time, the artist sounds forlorn, as befits the season. Closer “The Ships That Will Never Return” is particularly heartrending, the slow chords accompanied by the lapping of waves against an empty hull.
Then comes that Whitelabrecs favorite, Spring And All, in which the field recordings are pushed to the fore and the music seems an afterthought. The “Morning Birds” are given their space, along with the children, rain and trains. The album flows as a single soundscape, lovely in nature. But surprise ~ there are three more releases between Spring And All and Fragile Melodies, beginning with the Tides EP, a throwback in style to Morning Calm, again making good use of chimes and orchestral tones. Time and Silence continues in a similar vein, with UOT featuring on “When Thoughts Become Noise,” marking the semantic connection to Lost in the Beautiful Noise. Cloud-gazing and star-gazing are now regular features. Like Spring And All, Paths (just released this April) is inspired by walks in the woods, and exudes a sense of calm. The field recordings are now well-integrated, brook and bell performing a duet in “Purple Grains”.
Now we arrive at Fragile Melodies, the culmination of all these influences. Once again, it’s a seasonal album released just in time, featuring “Wind Chimes in June” and “A Dream in a Summer Night”. Two weeks ago, we chose “Sitting on the Grass under the Stars” as one of our Ten Tracks That Sound Like Summer. The label’s compliment ~ picking the artist out of a crowded field of self-releases ~ has paid off with extra effort, as Fragile Melodies is a particularly gorgeous album, well-suited for repeat plays. All of Valotihkuu’s best elements are here, from static to tape wobble, field recording to chime, laid out on a red-and-white checkered blanket beneath the sun and other stars. The Hammock tones are here (“Wind Chimes in June”, “The Dust Caresses the Treetops”), as well as the lovely loops (“Awakening of the Forest”). “A Dream in a Summer Night” adds music box, a perfect recruit. In “Dust”, nature comes to bear witness to the composer walking in her midst.
Whitelabrecs fell in love with Spring And All. Now I’ve fallen in love with Fragile Melodies, an album whose title perfectly reflects its contents. And more than that; thanks to Valotihkuu’s Bandcamp deal, I’ve found a new artist to love as well. One can listen to Valotihkuu all day and never get tired of his sound, in tune with the seasons, rolling with the rhythms of the day. (Richard Allen)