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Rational Diet


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Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Introduction:

This is the second release in the catalogue of AltrOck Records after the excellent Yugen's Labirinto D'acqua album released in 2006. It seems the label is hunting for those left-field bands/musicians, and with these two they have done a very good job. Both have an independent sound (sure it has influences, but I don't think they're copy- cat bands in anyway) and much talent.

Rational Diet is a Belarus sextet (in this album) along with five guest musiciams playing music incorporating and influenced by modern classic composers and avant-rock. The press note that came with the promotional CD says that: "Rational Diet proposes an unusual mix of styles and sounds: Chamber music, rock, theatre and improvisation, supported by the amazingly instrumental abilities of their components. It's difficult to define the mood of such music, which goes from dark atmosphere to grotesque, powerful or oniric, sometimes even humoristic." They state their influences to be: "Shostakovich, Stravinsky, Webern, Ives, King Crimson, Henry Cow, Art Bears, Univers Zero, Present, Debile Menthol". While I don't necessarily hear all those in the music, I can hear some of them (Henry Cow, Univers Zero, Art Zoyd and Stravinsky) and the overall interchanging sound of Rational Diet certainly fits the "musical module" that these musicians and composers create. To give you an idea of the musical palate of the band, the instrumentation consists of rock/modern instruments alongside classic instruments; guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, tenor sax, accordion, violin, cello and bassoon.

This review was hard for me to write as the music is not easy to define and I fear I may have done a disservice with my lame attempt at a review and if you get any bad impression from this review, please attribute it to me and not the music or the band.

A short discussion of particular tracks:

I won't go over all the tracks, but I'll give some thoughts and descriptions of some of them. If you wish you can skip to the end of the review where I wrote a general summary about the album.

From The Grey Notebook - Intro and Part 1:

Starting with a disjointed duo of bassoon and sax in the intro (fitting an Henry Cow album) the music flows then to Part 1 with the keyboards, guitar and drums playing a repetitive dynamic and dark passage. It is a track in which there is a roaming between a disjointed, nervous and restless rhythm to a more flowing one. The music is somewhat dark and brooding with some keyboards that evoke a chapel organ sound. There are elements or traces if you will of UZ, Present (in the flowing parts) and Henry Cow (in the disjointed parts). They switch between parts in which the rock instrumentation dominates (but they are not playing exclusively, they are accompanied by the rest of the group) to parts in which the "modern rock" sound gives way for the classical part to come through.

Stop, Kolpakoff!:

More of a Chamber music track with some quirky passages, going wild and noisy. The bassoon's sound evokes a classic feeling that clashes with the modern, weird and avant- garde patterns of the music and ultimately its role fits in well with the rest of the music.The violin here has a slightly "demented" sound, if you understand what I mean, going not really off-key, but slightly dis-harmonic (which fits the music). There are spoken vocals, which are said to be "texts by the Russian Avant-garde poets Daniil Charms and Alexei Kruchemykh" and they add to the general quirkiness of this particular piece. This track culminates with the violin playing ascending squeaky notes, as the accordion keeps with its constant supporting role with the rest of the instruments. In this seemingly chaotic affair, there's directionality to the music, and while some may be improvised it remains impressively under control.

I Refrained From Closing My Eyes:

At some point, especially towards the end, there are so many things going on simultaneously and it becomes very demanding to keep track of everything. This is a case that demands repeated listening until you get the full picture of all the different instrumental lines and the structure of the music. This may sound like chaos, but it is controlled chaos, as everything blends in together very well, and this is a main attribute about this band I admire. They compose complex music, with many layers, if you will, and still everything is in place, "goes along well with the others" and fits in. The end result is fascinating to listen to, asking you to try and decipher the semi-hidden melodies (to "conventional ears"). It is also not disharmonic as this description may infer. With their music, there's no real discomfort to sensitive ears, only the requisition for opening your mind (and neurons) for this challenging and unconventional music. Their craftsmanship of making this type of music is to be commended. This is not senseless throwing away of unrelated notes, disjointed passages of music with no rhythm. There is thought, emotion and passion behind (actually it's in the forefront) of this music.

From The Grey Notebook - Part 2:

This is probably the most melodic and flowing song in the album. The piano here gives a driving force that was not present in the other tracks. But that is not to say that the usual oddities are not here as well. It might be a good intro to the band's style as this is the most accessible piece.

Summary of the album:

The music derives its influences from past avant-rock, RIO and chamber music bands (Henry Cow, Univers Zero et al.) and the composers that influenced those bands as well. The music alternates between certain moods, feelings and styles. At times weird and quirky and in others chaos seems to dominate the music (but as I said, it's only seemingly so). In other parts, you have a dark atmosphere ruling over the sound, and in other, it gets a bit more light-hearted and theatrical in parts. The overall feelings I get from the music are that it's complex, dense unconventional and eerie, which I like very much. The musicians here do not try to show how much they know how to play their instruments (and they probably know it well) but to show how their instruments can be at the service of music, how they can create sounds and melodies (yes, melodies!) that are different and unconventional but appealing nonetheless.

Compared to AltrOck previous album by Italian band Yugen, this is even more daring. The music is less melodic, weirder, more abstract and free-form. This is not an album you will listen to each day, but when you do, your full and undivided attention needs to be given to it, otherwise a great proportion of the many details in it get lost and you miss the strange and eerie atmosphere this release has.

This will not appeal to people looking for nice and friendly harmonies, melodies (except from the last track), and accessible music. If you like any of the influences the band states of having, then you should look into it. This is for those who want to experiment, experience and be challenged. I enjoyed the challenge and I will take it again.

Report this review (#125313)
Posted Sunday, June 10, 2007 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
4 stars This eponymous album id Rational Diet's third since the start of the millennium, and their expanded line-up (now a sextet) play a seldom-developed Zeuhlian-laced RIO (along with a few guest musicians) that comes between Univers Zero and Art Zoyd and can be easily fitted in the chamber rock mould. This album is a compilation of their previous two releases.

In no small part, their RIO-sound is very much due to Appow's bassoon (mixed unusually loud), but Putschina's cello is also very present (perfectly complementary of Christya's violin), their music is entirely acoustic and apart from three centre tracks, mainly instrumental, the vocals including some "texts by the Russian Avant-garde poets Daniil Charms and Alexei Kruchemykh", but those vocals are sufficiently weird to give an original slant to their music. Particularly impressive in the second half of Order From Horses, where the group pulls quite a tight performance, grooving insanely to an indecently complex rhythm pattern. The two-part From The Grey Notebook, book-ending the album, is another biggie, especially in its closing section, as those weird vocals give the listener the envy to replay the album. While I have difficulty finding all of the influences they boldly state (see the opening page on this site), I can definitely hear Shostakovich, Ives, Univers Zero, Present, Debile Menthol and the unmentioned early-Art Zoyd.

While I wouldn't call Rational Diet a vulgar clone band (like all too often the case in other areas of prog rock), it is clear that they wear their influences a bit to openly to be truly taken at face value. But RD does manage to bring their own sensibilities to their brand of RIO, so they might just be considered as still quite creative while having a retro-sound, a bit like Anglagard in Symphonic prog and VolarÚ in Canterbury prog in the 90's. In spite of those all-too-obvious influences, RD's third albums is much worth a listen, partly due to its quaint Russians-sung vocals, bringing in a special flavour that allows it to stand on its own.

Report this review (#130286)
Posted Thursday, July 26, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Another splendid offering from Altrock in Italy (who released Yugen's excellent debut album), Rational Diet is the first internationally released CD from a RIO band from Belarus who have been around for several years; three of the tracks included here were recorded in 1999, the remainder date from 2004, and all were included on the band's earlier releases.

The album is bookended by 3 pieces from The Grey Notebook, all composed by guitarist Maxim Velvetov, while the filling in the sandwich comes from The Shameless and the pieces were composed by reeds player Vitaly Appow and violinist Cyrill Christya. There's quite a marked contrast between the pieces from the two different sessions. On the Grey Notebook pieces the core trio of composers work as a sextet with keyboards, bass and drums and the music is largely instrumental, recalling Univers Zero and Henry Cow. The pieces from The Shameless see the band working as an entirely acoustic quartet (cellist Alla Pustchina augmenting the core trio) plus guest vocalists, and here the music is closer to the chamber rock of Art Zoyd's first three albums. Although there are clear influences from several key RIO bands, Rational Diet have a definite identity of their own. A lot of the music draws as much on their Slavonic heritage as it does on contemporary avant rock, with elements of Shostakovitch and Bartok clearly audible. The Slavonic feel is reinforced on the acoustic tracks by guest vocalists reciting the work of avant garde poets over the music, a bold move which works remarkably although it could have gone badly wrong in less capable hands. The closing track, a 14 minute piece from The Grey Notebook, is something of a RIO masterpiece with a powerful, near-zeuhl vocal from guest Cyrill Yelshow. Maxim Velvetov's guitar work is particularly impressive on the electric tracks, while Vitally Appow's contributions on bassoon, sax and accordion add a distinctive edge to the imaginative arrangements throughout.

Despite being compiled from 2 different and quite distinct releases, Rational Diet works very well as an album in its own right. There's a high standard of composition and performance throughout, and the contrast between the acoustic tracks and those with a full band is highly effective. The three main composer/performers all bring something of their own to the RIO sound, and hopefully there is more to come from this intriguing Belarussian outfit. Recommended to anybody with a taste for chamber rock, in particular fans of Art Zoyd, Univers Zero and Henry Cow.

Report this review (#149316)
Posted Tuesday, November 6, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars My what a wonderful surprise! I haven't heard of this group before, but thanks to Synphonic Music, I found it - and they're from Belarus, making this quite unique music in area of birth.

The previous reviews pretty much tell the tale. I would agree that there are a lot of RIO groups that do tend to (it's the nature of the style a bit) to be a bit vulgar and maybe over the top (although I like that stuff too!) This on the other hand is a beautiful combination of RIO, but the Samala Mamas influence, it makes the outcome quite unique and their own voice. Speaking of voice, this is unusual also, as there is a different style of singing between the songs (do to the fact that this represents a couple of albums I think,) but is still totally cohesive and fitting. I wish I understood the language though, as it's sung with passion and clarity.

Overall, this is a must have to me, as it comes from yet another angle in the challenging and yet "can't get enough of" music of avant guard/rock.

Thanks to those that continue to support the music industry that really produces music out of love of life and art - we couldn't hear this wonderful dreams into reality without them! And now, I must have Rational Diet's other albums! (my wife just doesn't understand:)

Report this review (#400840)
Posted Tuesday, February 15, 2011 | Review Permalink
siLLy puPPy
PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams
4 stars While avant-prog and Rock In Opposition (RIO) are often used interchangeably to describe the difficult music section at the prog supermarket, the two terms are actually quite distinct although some bands clearly fall into both camps. Put simply avant-prog is that angular wild roller coaster ride music that finds more inspiration from modern classical and freaky free form jazz than from the rock and roll blues based playbook. RIO on the other describes more accurately specific bands and artists who have performed at the identically named events and often but not always play a wacky variation on the avant-prog sounds laid down by Henry Cow or the chamber rock complexities of pioneering bands like Univers Zero and Art Zoyd. While many of these bands have come from French speaking nations like France and Belgium, the influences of the initial 70s groups has spread far and wide over time.

One of these bands that found its way onto the September 2010 RIO festival in France was RATIONAL DIET that came all the way from Brest, Belarus (situated on the Polish border) and joined company with other outsider artists such as Art Bears, Gong, Caspar Br÷tzmann Massaker, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Jannick Top / Infernal Machina, Thierry Zaboitzeff (ex-Art Zoyd), Full Blast, Miriodor, Genevieve Foccroulle and Aquaserge at the same event. RATIONAL DIET formed in 1996 and disbanded in 2012 but left in its wake five distinct works that include three official albums and two earlier self-made and promoted albums titled "From The Grey Notebook" and "The Shameless." These two earliest albums have been nearly impossible to track down as they were only released on CD-Rs and are nowhere for digital download or free listening so in effect this debut simply titled RATIONAL DIET should be considered the official debut album.

RATIONAL DIET qualifies as both avant-prog and RIO but express these styles through the art of chamber music which includes a large number of participants. The musicians who appear on all seven of the tracks include Vitaly Appow (bassoon, tenor sax, accordion), Maxim Velvetov (guitars), Cyrill Christya (violin), Dmitry Maslovsky (bass), Eugeny Alexeyev (keyboards) and Nicolay Gumberg (drums) with several others who participate on a a track or two. These include Alla Pustchina (cello), Cyrill Yelshow (vocal), Maria Lagodich (vocals), Andrew Bogdanow (vocals) and Oleg Gorbatiuk (vocals). The band's sound is very reminiscent of the classic chamber rock bands of the past which include Univers Zero, Art Zoyd, Present and Henry Cow but RATIONAL DIET takes on a lot more classical elements than the typical RIO chamber rock band with influences from Stravinsky and Shostakovich as well as home grown Slavic gypsy folk and even some Soviet era poets in the sparse lyrics found spoken and sung throughout the album.

Thanks to the Italian AltrOck label which is home to the avant-freakery of Yugen, RATIONAL DIET which went from a relocated Minsk based local act that toured its native land of Belarus to a more international phenomenon and this eponymously titled album is the culmination of the band's ten years of practicing, gigging and compositional creativity which finds most of the tracks lifted from the "From The Grey Notebook" and "The Shameless" releases. In fact out of the seven tracks that make up this 61 minute album's running time, only "Stop Kolpakoff!" didn't appear in some form on the first two local releases. It doesn't take long at all to realize that out of all the dishes on RATIONAL DIET's menu that the chamber rock / avant-prog complexities of Unviers Zero, Art Zoyd and Present are the sound de jour and the sextet with a few guests for those "extra" touches deliver with all the gusto and dexterity of Cirque du Soleil members at a trampoline factory. In other words, this band has seriously honed its chops.

Despite RATIONAL DIET's appetite to consume the chamber prog of yore, the band did an excellent job of bringing it into the 21st century with some local flavors to keep it from sounding like some sort of hero worship cult album that insinuates posters of Roger Trigaux and Daniel Denis on various band member's ceilings! While the chamber rock is the dominate flavor of this DIET, the actual compositional presentations are a bit more IRRATIONAL than the band's name suggests. Firstly, the band's instrumentation a lot different than its influences with a heavier emphasis on the core instruments of the bassoon (think a more energetic Lindsay Cooper) and a creepy violin (think Paganini meets Can) which conjure up bizarre contrapuntal dualisms that find one taking the lead and the other drifting off and then snapping back to the main gist of things. Second of all, while mostly instrumental, RATIONAL DIET also has vocal sections that find guests vocalists, both male and female reciting avant-garde Soviet poetry as well as "singing" at times in very, very weird styles.

Add to all that RATIONAL DIET dishes out a side serving of local gypsy folk rhythms that create nice harmonic structures although the riffing is clearly rooted in the chamber rock / avant-prog universe which makes for an interesting contrast. The rhythms also have a slight zeuhl vibe as well which at times almost bubble in symmetrical martial bombast. Best of all, the album starts out more in the traditional camp but gets more comfortable branching out into strange new worlds by the time it gets to "Don't Swing A Wheel" and the final "From The Grey Notebook - Part 2." The closing numbers provide not only the traditional but hairpin turns into the frenetically unstable and back again into a more pacifying false sense of calm before the violins screech out in ecstasy and Slavic folk influences in the form of the wild vocal gymnastics are allowed to flitter around in experimental glee. The complexities don't detract from the rhythms and melodic developments that occur nor vice versa. Somehow the band juggles all elements fairly smoothly. When all is said and done, RATIONAL DIET does an excellent job on this debut of paying homage to the greats that came before and by adding its own stamp to the world of chamber rock oriented avant-prog / RIO. Highly recommended.

Report this review (#2244271)
Posted Friday, August 16, 2019 | Review Permalink

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