The album Командировка (or Business Trip) is one of the year's most essential releases
Dimitry Teckel
16:16 21st September 2018

Bright-eyed and tireless, Jenya Gorbunov is one of those guys who really mean it when they say they gotta try it all. Starting writing music as a teenager, he literally went all the way up from his hometown Khabarovsk to the other side of the world. First, he went to Moscow, where he became nothing short of a pop star as part of the short-lived indie sensation NRKTK in the late 00’s. More recently, he went to the KEXP studio in Reykjavik with stellar ГШ / Glintshake, all while participating in numerous other bands such as Interchain and RTY. Now, the time has finally come for the much anticipated debut album Командировка (or “Business trip”) by his side project Inturist, one of the most talked-of Moscow bands of the past year.

Although known to be an éminence grise of sorts in every collective he performs with, Jenya is always stylistically and directionally limited to the concept of each certain act. Inturist was created as a way for Gorbunov to experiment and switch these concepts on the go, an ambition that resulted in a free-form project that indeed can fully change in a matter of days. As Inturist, Jenya may appear solo with only a guitar and a couple of pedals; a week later, he rocks the house with a full jazz-band under the same name, as he did on Moscow Music Week. There are accounts of Inturist as a music theatre group and even a video of Gorbunov performing a hilarious séance of practical magic, operating retro synths while wearing a white robe. The video is a parody of the TV-magicians that dominated the air a couple of decades ago.

In the same manner, Командировка is a one massive throwback to the 80’s. Many of the album’s themes and even its sound production are inspired by the late Soviet era with its societal turmoil and cultural breakthrough. This may sound extremely local to Russia at first glance, but Gorbunov’s talent, versatility and infinite energy make his music universal and easy to understand without any context.

A listener from outside Russia may find that the album is assembled from fairly familiar elements of different scenes. This is basically that good old N.Y. No Wave compilation from ZE Records all over again, but with bits of new wave-ish synths and bass on ‘Мужчина моего отца’ (“My father’s boyfriend”), the album’s most catchy and danceable tune. There’s a drop of avant-jazz on the wild and untamed ‘Интерьерные решения для всей семьи’ (“Interior solutions for the whole family”). Obscure synthesiser experiments from the 70’s are aplenty on both ‘Перемещайтесь’ (“Move around”) and ‘Мультфильм для взрослых’ (“Cartoon for adults”).

Anyone making these observations would certainly be correct, but there’s a slight intricate touch to Командировка that makes it a well-thought art project rather than just another nostalgic album with retro feel. While working with said influences, Inturist doesn’t reference them directly. Instead, they’re done so through the prism of Soviet musicians that brought these kinds of music into the closed country, recreating the sound and rearranging it according to their own vision. These include bands like Zvuki Mu, AuktYon and Alliance, outstanding film composer Eduard Artemyev and many more.

Subtle details that make it Russian are barely noticeable, but they're here: in its melody progression, in little sound nuances, in emotional delivery. Throw in some absurd lyrics and song titles that play on 80’s bureaucratic newspeak and “Things only Soviet kids will remember” such as TV maintenance hours (“Профилактика”) and the aforementioned “adult cartoons” which was not porn at all, but a widespread animation genre for 16+ year olds. Through all this you get a believable slice of life as if the album was made in 1989 in some underground Moscow studio amidst the late USSR chaos.

Or just ignore all of these references and you still have a brilliant record on your hands that could’ve been created in New York or Berlin, in 1981 or 2143, but ended up here in 2018. The record that manages to sound retrospective and incredibly fresh at the same time, just as well as simultaneously explore international avant-garde heritage while staying undeniably Russian at its core.

This is the power of Inturist: bending and slamming against different eras, genres and even whole continents to create boundless, beautiful music, never mind the space-time continuum.

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Photo: Moscow Music Week