In Review: Molchat Doma - Monument
Belarusian synth-pop group, Molchat Doma had a peculiar rise to fame. In 2018, one of their songs 'Sudno' went viral amongst 'doomers' on TikTok and rocketed all the way to No. 2 on the Spotify worldwide Viral 50 chart. What is a doomer you ask? 'Doomerism' refers to a particular subdivision of online culture, one that champions the aesthetics of nihilism and melancholia. Think black and white camera filters, rollies and disused industrial developments. It's nothing new; Donnie Darko was a doomer, as was Robert Smith, Sylvia Plath and Horace Warpole. It's worth asking why Molchat Doma cut through to this demographic so intensely. Kids in the USA and Britain in particular (the band are still relatively obscure in Eastern Europe), really connected to Doma's dreary mix of post-punk and disembodied Soviet-era imagery. In the West, amongst the young, the trend became a tacitly symbolic of late-capitalist alienation.
Monument, their latest LP, is a deeply compelling record. With Molchat Doma now signed to Sacred Bones, the plague-era production has been well looked after. The sound is cleaner and more vibrant than before, without sacrificing the band's trademark dystopian sensibility. Molchat Doma's three members have long forgone the use of a drummer, instead relying solely on drum-machines, balanced out with synthesisers, guitars and front-man, Egor Shkutko's anguished vocals. Following the 2018 release of the group's second album, Etazhi (Floors), there's also been a noticeable shift, and the instrumental focus has since relocated from Pavel Kozlov's bass guitar to Roman Komogortsev's lead. This shift is demonstrated throughout the album, but most conspicuously on 'Obrechen', a track that announces itself with all the treble splendour of an early The Cure sensation, or something off The Smiths' eponymous debut.
Central to this new album, is the feeling of nostalgia, of ghostly return. The band chose to title the album 'Monument' and, as other critics have noted, their hometown of Minsk is awash with reminders of the past. There's the notorious Island of Tears, a memorial to those Belarusian soldiers lost to the mujahedeen and potentially the inspirations for Monument's cover art, then there's Victory Square, which commemorates the partisans that died in WWII. "Why, instead of tomorrow, today is yesterday?" Shkutko asks in a song called 'Net Otveta' (No Answer), "I say honestly, there is no answer." And therein shines the conceptual epicentre of the album itself: a feeling of temporal alienation, of being visited by the past, so much so that concepts like 'today', 'tomorrow', 'yesterday' all start to bleed into one another. Molchat Doma called the album Monument - not Memorial, not Mausoleum - because monuments are absurd, they lack specificity like the features of a dream. Kozlov and Shkutko and Komogorsev have taken that absurdity, that dreamlike quality, and put it to music.
Floors was a lot of fun, not only for the downcast, skateboarding TikTokers who championed it, but for its fresh take on what's now becoming a seriously tired post-punk rebirth. Monument, however, seems more thoughtful: it revels in its influences without jettisoning authenticity, and reflects the estrangement felt by a country at war with itself, and steeped in the shadows of its past.
Monument is out now via Sacred Bones Records.