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Olga Bell - Krai (2014)

Olga Bell is a Russian-born, New York-based composer/producer.Born in Moscow and raised in Alaska, Olga Bell is an American composer, producer and performer based in Brooklyn. A prodigious classical pianist as a child and teenager, Bell graduated from the New England Conservatory at age 21 before moving to New York City to pursue electronic composition and songwriting.

Bell makes original music, remixes and videos under her own name. As half of Nothankyou, Bell makes electronic music with British musician Tom Vek. In 2012 Bell joined Dirty Projectors for the band’s Swing Lo Magellan cycle and remains a keyboardist and singer with the band today.

Край (Krai) is Olga Bell's fond tribute to backwaters, to half-forgotten towns.  In Russian, the album title means "edge" or "limit", referring to the areas away from cities and cultural centers where you can walk into a kitchen and find your grandparents' culture still very much alive. Bell's album, written entirely in Russian, evokes crowded rooms where the air is thick with unfamiliar food smells, where heated conversations you can't quite follow take place in a language you no longer quite remember.

Olga Bell · voices, synths, samples, jaw harp
Andrea Lee · cello
Logan Coale · electric bass
Grey McMurray · electric guitar
Gunnar Olsen · drum kit, percussion, samples
Jason Nazary · drum kit, vibraphone, glockenspiel, percussion, samples

A composer and singer/songwriter who joined the ranks of Dirty Projectors for the tour behind 2012's Swing Lo Magellan, Bell moved to Alaska from the Soviet Union when she was younger. Край (Krai) is a dizzy collision of her past and her present, a meeting space where the oldest sounds she knows haunt the music she makes now. The result occupies some gnarly middle ground between Russian folk song, chamber music, and avant-garde rock music.

The album is a stirring collection of strange, thrilling noises where it's difficult to know, exactly, what is going on at any given moment. Vibraphones and glockenspiel melt into synthesizers, and Bell's vocals dip, moan, and smear into lower registers with the help of pitch-shifting software. You can imagine you're hearing some of the Knife's last album in the blur, Holly Herndon's work with the sound of human breath caught in a digital blender, or an artfully curdled, Cubist take on Bell's current band.

Bell scored the album for a colorful menagerie of instruments; cello, mallet percussion, guitar, electric bass, and more sample and more crawl across its surface. The instruments sound suspended on some steep dunking line between past and present that Bell's located—new sounds plunge into the deep and come up old, and old sounds become freshly strange. The synth on "Stavropol Krai" strongly resembles a wailing clarinet; on "Krasnoyarsk Krai", the vibes and glockenspiel tinkle in a minor key above a throbbing cello and Bell's ghostly, pitched-down vocals. A chiming electric guitar picks up the figure the vibes were playing and carries them around, dropping them all over the surface of the music like pulverized glass.

Bell's voice, spread across in various octaves, plays the role of every single townsperson of every krai in her memory. Her multitracked vocals spread out to every corner of the mix. Many of the lyrics, translated into English, probe the feeling of being forgotten or left behind: "God's too high for us/Moscow's far too distant," she laments on "Primorsky Krai". "Kransnador Krai" tells the story of a Cossack warrior riding home on an old path: "Ancestral glory is gone/ New people are here/ Not a pleasant thought." The "blinking township lights" on "Krasnoyarsk Krai" are, implicitly, seen from a distance—and distance is what Bell is working to close on Край (Krai). Her mesmerizing, eventful, and strange album brings these remote voices close enough to feel their breath in our ears. --- Jayson Greene

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someone to watch, the soul of a classical composer in a DJ world

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