As is all too often the case, the worst and most contrived music of a year is incessantly played and pushed through the airwaves like some audio-ejected turd while far more worthy efforts have to patiently build a following through downloads, burned albums, and word of mouth before being recognized. One such secret tour de force of 2010 is the self-titled debut of Soviet League.
Soviet League is a collaborative effort by two master song writers and mainstays of the Los Angeles indie scene; Matthew Kelly (The Autumns and The Sound of Animals Fighting) and Ben Eshbach (The Sugarplastic). Anyone familiar with previous projects by Kelly and Eshbach will hardly be surprised by the brilliance of this latest effort and those who are not have a world of musical discovery ahead of them.
Encompassing an ambitious range of sounds and moods, the album progresses from quirky, bass-driven marches to playful, circus-like soundscapes and relaxed, thumping, dreamy serenades reminiscent of The Beach Boys, all encapsulated is a cloud of surreal euphoria. Kelly and Esbach trade off on vocals, striking unique moments of duet with the combination of their distinctive voices. Effective over-dubbing throughout creates an angelic backdrop of harmony, serenity and well-won triumph. These complex compositions of dense detail work and precision placement are masterfully crafted so as to feel fresh and despite the songs' unformulaic, inventive nature they are easily accessible. Well positioned samples and electronic percussion are utilized sparingly to texture a solid vanguard of guitar, bass, drums, violins, cellos, horns, vibraphones and the ever-unappreciated glockenspiel, resulting in an abundantly full sound, accented with the occasional track of inspired whistling. Lyrics verge on the whimsical, supporting the dream-like feel of the wave of music they ride.
Fellow "Autumns" members Steve Elkins (drums) and Dustin Morgan (bass) offer their musical talents, possibly accounting for some of the CD's more epic journeys, particularly the song "Delaware". The album's cover painting, a beautiful and fantastical piece by artist Jen Lobo, is a front-and-back spread of a nautical nature much in keeping with the inviting yet uncanny tone of the album.
Soviet League is warmly nestled somewhere in a happy place between the world of nocturnal fantasy and waking consciousness. Each song is original, none sounding like any of the others, yet there is an organic flow that absorbs them all in one powerful work, difficult to define aside from labeling it as the undeniable masterpiece that it is. We can only hope this is a project that Kelly & Eshbach will proceed to explore further. - C. Jefferson Thom
Mr. Thom lives in New York City and walks dogs, writes plays, and loves dissecting pop culture.