The matter of music can be transient. Yes there are roots and traditions but essentially soundscapes demand no borders. Musical minds are left to wander free and for Belarusian collective SOYUZ that means from Minsk across continents to Brazil, a journey that’s now been captured on their new album ‘Force of the Wind’, available right here, right now from the esteemed Mr Bongo Records.
Revolving around the tight trio of leader Alex Chamuk (vocals, keys and composition), multi-instrumentalist, Mikita Arlou, and Anton Nemahai on drums SOYUZ have been honing their craft since 2018 with the release of two albums prior to their Mr Bongo signing. Pre ‘Force of the Wind’ the band focused on exquisite electro-acoustic song based pop, often with a restrained kosmische thrust and zinging jazz inflections, but on the new record Chamuk has set free his emotional connection with Brazilian music to produce something more distinctive and personal.
SOYUZ introduce the subtle shift in their music on ‘Force of the Wind’ with characteristic understatement and finesse. After the tone setting instrumental ‘Song With No Words’, where the Fleet Foxes harmonies take a Nascimento twist, the early tracks ease into your airspace with an unhurried confidence. From bouncy pop piano taps to the quivering orchestral undercurrent, ‘Offscreen’ swoons gently as Chamuk’s part hushed, part pure vocals reveal some weary regrets. He effortlessly takes a higher register on ‘Glance’, a slice of sumptuous lilting new pop that drips with fine detail from the synthesiser hints to the Rhodes’ jazz-facing suggestions. There’s a real sense of Belle and Sebastian integrity about the writing evident from the off on this record, a facet that gets further reinforcement by the breezy skip of ‘I Knew It’. Featuring the nimble vocal joy of Russian avant-pop experimentalist Kate NV it’s a song where everything is in the right place from the slight gear change in the chorus to the fuzz bass/ buoyant flute conversation that scurries the tune home.
Such crafting and focus highlights the influence of seventies Brazilian artistry on ‘Force of the Wind’ but there’s nothing derivative about the record. Sure the bubbling undercurrents of those seminal Jose Mauro albums or mid period Caetano Veloso are an energy source but this feels like new music rather than anything retrospective. It’s an achievement last heard on Sessa’s celebrated ‘Estrela Acesa’ release from earlier this year and yes there is a connection. Alex Chamuk arranged strings for that album alongside Simon Hanes who now returns the favour by conducting the string section for SOYUZ album three. Plus percussionist Cem Mısırlıoğlu and flute maestro Gabriel Milliet play their part on both records. Is this what they call a scene?
Given such connections it’s unsurprising that Sessa himself sneaks onto the album’s sultry samba fusion ‘How Are You’ bringing his breathy, nonchalant vocal suggestiveness with him. Any song that cruises to a burbling bassline and shimmering wah-wah fills before swelling into a fully orchestrated whirl of emotions, is hard to pigeonhole except to say it’s got that Verocai/Gil ear for the unconventional twist. That drive to shift perspective also empowers the album’s pivotal cut ‘Beige Days’. A stretched and strident jazz funk number that shatters any illusions of blandness suggested in its title by gearing through stabbing Rhodes riffs, skittering beats, a soaring canterbury-prog flute interlude then finally onto an Al Dimeola-dexterous guitar workout. The track also signals something of a thematic switch on the album as from then on the SOYUZ lens seems to turn from the personal to the world outside.
The record’s title song continues this look beyond the self, bursting with a lush celebration of the scenic and sonic, fluttering, melodious and unashamedly gorgeous. ’Morning Moon’ feels more earthy, the folky guitar patterns, drizzling zithers, innocent falsetto and distant brass calls conjuring somewhere mystical, illusive but not out of place. As a closing bulletin ‘Weather Report’ calmly draws a line under this third episode of the SOYUZ story. A laid back strum and strolling melody well up with some melancholic guitar out pouring while Chamuk’s homely organ chords quietly underplays. It’s as if the record is winding down to a ‘to be continued’ coda.
Intriguingly ‘Force of the Wind’ is one of those deceptively fine records which escape an easy explanation. You begin with the pointers to classic Brazilian pop, end up somewhere else entirely but still remain enthralled plus ready to go again. A potential ‘Quiet Is The New Loud’ (part 2), it’s an album with hidden powers.
Pick up your copy of ‘Force of the Wind’ by SOYUZ from your local record shop or direct from: https://gruppasoyuz.bandcamp.com/album/force-of-the-wind