November 12, 2003

Icarus "Six Soviet Misfits"

Being namedropped by people is peculiar. I've known a few people who have had their popularty increased dramatically by this simple little process. Person #1 says, "I've really been digging this record by (insert group or artist name here), it's really good," and suddenly the world pays attention to them (well, sometimes.) All it takes for the hype machine to get a-rollin' is a great review or an interview or something that you really wouldn't expect, and though this review's not a great place to discuss such matters, it does happen a lot in the indie world, it's even more prevalent in the electronica world.

Icarus is a great case in point. In interviews, this duo has been praised by respected electronica artists Four Tet and Manitoba, and as such, they've received renewed interest, and have received respect from the respected, even if their names mean nothing to you or me. (This is the underground, after all.) Six Soviet Misfits is a collection of three previously-released EP's, (UL-6, Soviet Igloo and Misfits) questionably compiled onto two CD's (they're short enough to appear on one disc). No matter how these songs are packaged, it's obvious that Icarus is, in every sense of the word, challenging.

The first disc is the most challenging. Soundscapes are rough, difficult and complex; there's not much of what you would call melody. Heck, there's not even a really sane beat--it's all a mesh of darkness, atmosphere and complex rhythms that are anything but linear. In fact, it's really difficult to distinguish between the songs; the only one that really stands out is the aptly-titled "Despair." If you've ever wondered what the sound of a man going through difficulty and despair sounds like, then this song captures that feeling quite well. It's a journey into hell, with no way out--and it's extremely disturbing to listen to.

The second disc, which constitutes the Misfits mini-album, fares a little better. While it's still complex and highly challenging, there are a few melodic moments here and there, and that synergy of ambient and drum & bass sounds really good--when it's allowed. The forth track of the second disc blends a whirling clarinet--or is that a sorprano saxophone--over a schitzophrenic drum beat, which is then layered with a slow, mellow ambient drone. The following track is also quite nice, and contains more of a dance beat, though 'dance beat' is a relative term.

Six Soviet Misfits is not an easy listen. At times, it's downright unpleasant. Still, that doesn't mean that Six Soviet Misfits isn't a compelling listen. In fact, it's a fascinating look at two men's idea of an ambient soundscape, and it's rather haunting. I also get the distinct feeling that this isn't their best work, but is meant to serve as a stopgap release between now and their next album. Perhaps those Four Tet and Manitoba fellows were right--perhaps Icarus do have something special, even if Six Soviet Misfits doesn't particularly make the case for it.

--Joseph Kyle

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