Yat-Kha

Aldyn Dashka Yat-Kha Records

Yat-Kha's end-of-the-century Delai Beldiri was a glorious freak show that counterpoised stone-age shamanic Siberian throat singing with Sixties-era rock-combo amplification. No matter how many times I played it, the album never ceased to startle me. But its successor, Aldyn Dashka, is so well crafted, so heady with one good song after another, the oddities get all but shoved into the scrub grass. The vocals by this ensemble from the former Soviet satellite of Tuva remain as incredible as ever. If anything Albert Kuvezin's repertoire of belly-dragging, forehead-bursting, hornet-buzzing, polytonal throat singing is even more assured. While still the central presence, he no longer dominates the band as much as he fits perfectly into both lead and supporting roles, and these often deliriously blur.

"Bai-La Mongon" is Kuvezin's showcase. Singing unaccompanied and without overdubs, he hugs a low fundamental note while changing the shape of his throat cavity to simultaneously unleash a ghost melody dancing three octaves up. And without so much as scuffing a tonsil, he launches into a lovely sygyt throat "whistle" that introduces "Oi Moroz" like an eerie, electrified flute. Second vocalist Aldyn-ool Sevek sings understated lead in, of all things, this Russian traditional song. The choice of material is unusual in a political sense, but more than anything it sounds like a drinking song, and since Aldyn Dashka, or "golden cup," refers to the milky araka vodka favored by Siberian locals, all is commodious. The Gypsy vibes allow ample room for amplified guitar slides and a hellishly guttural one-note accompaniment on an amplified monihuur lute that not so incidentally resembles Kuvezin's bowels-of-the-earth vocal on "Chorum Bodum." On this paean to nature, the Tuvan titan sounds like Bigfoot's bigger brother on steroids, but his roughness is buffed by the sweet strings of a two-string igil fiddle and the encouragement of a churning guitar.

Yat-Kha's full range is shown to best advantage on "Kozhamyk," featuring riffing guitar chords, a perky melody, a heroic-style lead vocal, and atmospheric back-up growls by Sevek. Just as good are Sevek's Dudley Do-Right singing and a sweeping melody suggesting the Seven Hills that "Chedi Tei" describes. A silky guitar solo, bass vocals from Kuvezin, and sonorous gongs convey as odd a sense of place as could ever be established. But it's odd only in the sense of unfamiliarity. Yat-Kha has been marketed as the Tuvan equivalent of a garage band, a Siberian punk group, but the comparison doesn't hold up. The songs are traditional, the arrangements tastily economical, and the results as lovely as any emerging pop music you'll ever hear.

 
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