The lead story of Release is not the music, but the source. Michail Todua (Michailo) is currently in the sixth year of a nine-year stent in a Georgian prison, having been convicted of carrying a trace amount of MDMA (ecstasy). Under Georgian law, there is no difference between an ounce and a kilo. The artist hasn’t seen his daughter in six years. But by special arrangement, he is allowed to make music, and the music helps to tell his story.
For the full tale, click through to the Bandcamp page; we can’t tell it any better. The good angles: thanks to Irakli Kiziria and his other friends, the music is getting made and the message is being shared. Music has saved Todua’s life and preserved his sanity. He is now offering musical therapy to other inmates. But not everyone is this “lucky.” And while Todua is possessed of great internal fortitude, this injustice has taken a large toll on him ~ while others around him have lost life and hope.
In this context, Release can mean a few things. This is, of course, a physical release ~ but it can also provide a sense of release in both creation and reception. Ultimately, the artist hopes to be released, along with other inmates in similarly arbitrary situations. Perhaps the biggest irony of them all is that the primary effect of MDMA is a feeling of togetherness and peace, which is being punished. Music is now the only drug available. It’s a small miracle that Todua was allowed to create a studio, and now his music is keeping him going. Kiziria calls it “an expression of freedom,” and this release brings to mind the saying, “I know why the caged bird sings.”
This being said, we’re not reviewing Release because of the setting, or because of the difficulty in working with donated equipment, but because it’s a solid EP. There’s no obvious segment that implies incarceration, although “Shrag Sibyline” does possess an ambient melancholy, marked by soft piano, electronic stutters and a repeating cloud of static. The track has a forward trajectory, but it’s easy to lose one’s self in the flow, and that’s the point: transcendence. “Merion” includes a sound like helicopter rotors, but in a matter-of-fact manner rather than a foreboding one. The addition of sounds is like the addition of days and years, all piling on top of one another, slowly and inexorably.
The two big dance cuts, “Merme” and “Kult,” are where it’s at. “Merme” also uses a static charge, but plunges into a 122+ BPM tempo, laying the groundwork for a series of introductions. The greatest of these arrives at 2:40 with a beautifully resonant keyboard line reminiscent of the tracks once found on Global Underground compilations. When the second, stuttered line begins to echo, the appeal is secured; it continues to morph through the end like a man learning to deal with his surroundings. “Kult” is a touch faster, but sounds positive despite its title. Percussion is the center, set against washes of synth. In these circumstances, should we dance? Would prisoners want us to dance? Everything about this release says yes. But they would also want us to write: to challenge the government to act in a way that is just, fair, and humane. (Richard Allen)