Album review: Mike Lazarev – ‘Out Of Time’: a miniature soundtrack to an imaginary film

MIKE LAZAREV is a London-based, Kyiv-born composer with a real feel for the filmic.

Leaving behind a country torn by political upheaval and persecution, he and his family moved to the USA – where he promptly fell out of love with the classical music he had been studying and performing since the age of 6.

It would only take a year, however, for him to rediscover music-making; utilising his family’s first computer (“a Dell 386 with 4MB of memory!”) he began using a sample-based tracker to create techno and released records in that genre through the Nineties.

Later again, and relocated now to London, he finally bought his own piano, and found a teacher to re-immerse himself in classical music; but lacking patience he turned to minimalism. 

His ambient collaboration with James Murray from last year, Suññata; was widely acclaimed; in 2019 he recorded a two-hander with Uwe Zahn, aka the lovely electronica stylist Arovane, entitled Aeon (Eilean 55).

This week he’s stepping out alone as Mike Lazarev for the first time since 2016, and he’s releasing a lovely mini-album, Out Of Time, a soundtrack to an imaginary film (we really like those, here at Backseat Mafia), for Siné Buyuka’s Injazero imprint; home to Snowdrops, whose gorgeous Volutes we reviewed over winter.

“The protagonists of this imaginary film are constantly fighting against the fleeting moments on this plane. But it is less about death than it is about living. And most of all, it is all about time,” Mike writes.

And isn’t that very subject, time, one of which we all have a weird appreciation right now? Frustrated in our viral purdah we have so much of it, but also feel keenly the bite of its passing in our confines.

“I’ve imagined scenes, scenarios, and conversations,” Mike says, “where music would enhance a fictitious story.”

Music is a succour we should celebrate in these times; Out Of Time, the mini-album, may prove invaluable as we slouch towards a lockdown spring and hopefully towards a freer, vaccinated summer.

Mike Lazarev

Of course it begins with “Prelude”; where else? Which is an extremely pretty flourish of piano, gliding forward, a sense of rain in its beauty; it’s cushioned by a swell of strings in harmony. Just a minute and a little more, what it does is set the tonic for this record – a mastery of the instruments and an opening credits for this ‘film’.

“Out Of Time” is delicious, and was the announcing single just a month back. It’s contemplative, but not pretty-pretty; it sees polyphonic drone shimmer welcoming you into his personal, modern compositional piano aesthetic, one built of bass-key strength, wintry motifs, possibly best heard in natural light as dusk dims the room. There’s a real post-rock thrill in that grainy drone that moves Mike’s playing to a different space. An early crescendo and sense of bustle, from which he withdraws to his piano alone. Every note counts; it feels like he’s holed up and observing the world, and recounting that tale for you personally.

“Delayed” is a piano étude, full of languor and that odd electricity of waiting to spring you get in the dead time before an arrival or a departure, the pregnancy of the new chapter. There’s the background hubbub of a station foyer or departure lounge to increase that sense of the liminal; which anxiety of the immediately pending breaks forth in “Too Late”, the profound bass note allowed to ring under a melody appropriately tentative, grasping … maybe bereft.

“Time Becomes” has a slow waltz time, paced just so, and an Art Nouveau lushness; ideally, you’d take to your opulent chaise longue for this one, a winter’s dusk of a tune, unfolding with deeper strings atmospheres singing up and through, slowly hushing before the full-bore opening scorch of “Somewhere Sometime”, a howl of meshed sustain and primal emotion that ignites with snarl, before dying back – though never fully, maintaining a thunderclap rumble under Mike’s clean-lined and accomplished melody.

For “Outerlude” you’re riding alongside Mike, all the clacking and little squeaking adjustments of his instrument audible in a Satie-esque piece – with all the absolute beauty you might expect from such a reference. Every note counts, and Mike has a definite ‘hand’ at the piano, a striking way with the melody line.

“Off Time” – not outside time, note, but off … feels a companion piece to the preceding “Outerlude”; loving the intermittent creaks of real wood and strings and flesh producing this sound in real time. Perhaps “Off Time” is a perichronological state just before “Eternal”, which is given the full weight of emotive reach with a chest-tugging melody joined in a lacrimosa by a slow and mournful wash of strings; one that I’m glad isn’t longer, for reasons of pure emotional reaction. That coda of wood helps you touch base; earths you after a bloody intense couple of minutes in Mike’s film.

As you’d imagine, “Finale” draws down the curtain, and actually these past two tracks have been playing close to A Winged Victory For The Sullen territory, and particularly the deep, glacial burn of the drone figure which flows through this, the mere mortal actions of horns and piano on its surface. If you’re a fan of the drone, this will thrill you.

Mike’s a man out of step with chronos maybe, but not with the muse. As with Sonic Cathedral’s Cheval Sombre, who’s beautiful album in a very different discipline we looked at just last week, Mike seems to have time troubling his heart; its grinding linearity, its inexorability; the way it makes you miss things, yearn for things, regret.

It’s less a mini-album, and more an album in miniature; it’s all of 22 minutes, give or take, but no piece within seems fragmentary, compressed. It’s all just scaled down a but in terms of chronological (there we are again) size; but it’s very lovely and doesn’t cheat you in any way you could wish to name (OK. Maybe issued as a 10″ would make me fully replete). It’s a clever thing really, to reduce these pieces to the two-minute mark (which almost all of them are) and not lose their essence, in a genre where the seven-minute mark seems the benchmark that conventionally allows for an exploration of the dynamics on offer.

But then, that’s Mike Lazarev’s Out Of Time all over; it’s a clever little record and a lovely one, too.

Mike Lazarev’s Out of Time will be released by Injazero Records digitally and on CD on February 26th; it’s available for pre-order over at the label’s Bandcamp page now.

Connect with Mike on Facebook and Twitter.

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