“Monument” of Glory: Molchat Doma Rocket Themselves to a Synthwave Sun (Review)
Molchat Doma presents historically-minded music listeners with an interesting question: how is it, exactly, that such bright, uplifting synth jams have ended up coming out of Belarus, of all places, a country previously ravaged in the 20th Century by both World War II as well as the Soviet satellite state occupation that came later? Perhaps Molchat Doma have simply learned to move past all of this, regarding it from a bit of a sarcastic, humorous perspective as a coping mechanism. Or perhaps, as the artwork on their newest 2020 album may suggest, they actually feel more of a cultural kinship with Mother Russia than some might suspect.
Whatever the case, this delightful trio who have done quite a bit for the synthwave/post-punk revamp in the past couple years are back in action again with Monument, which could easily be their most warmly caressing release yet.
It’s not as if Molchat Doma weren’t any good prior to dropping Monument on the ever eager synth/electronic fans of the world. In particular, Etazhi (2018), with that weird hotel on the cover, received considerable acclaim, winning over many music journalists (myself included) and appearing on many year-end lists. But whereas Etazhi was a little more bass heavy with its production and overall bouncier on the songwriting front, Monument takes a backstep from this delivery, slowing tempos down a hair and focusing on the higher end of Molchat Doma’s trademark synths.
The result is noticeably more meditative, ringy, and a bit, well…. sexier.
In past interviews and in their biography, Molchat Doma claims to take a significant cue from Russian rock, but there’s far more than that mere aspect to unpack with Monument. Part of what I’ve loved so much about the so-called "synthwave revival" is how it feels distinctly old-school and new-school simultaneously. The Russian rock influence may certainly be there with Monument, but there are also clear touches of non-Russian stuff from the 1970s and 1980s.
The album also feels more multidimensional with some of its underlying influences and songwriting approach. Though an excellent release, Etazhi nevertheless felt slightly samey with its songwriting after a point. Monument broadens the Molchat Doma delivery quite nicely and covers more bases sound-wise. I have particularly been abusing the replay button for the fourth track “Ne Smeshno” which gives off something of an Eastern aesthetic with the guitar tone and also sees front man Egor Shkutko employing a charismatic yelling vocal delivery that I don’t exactly recall hearing with Etazhi.
Further, Pavel Kozlov’s bass offerings on Monument come off as a lot fatter and more audible than on Etazhi, serving to give the record a wider, more spacious final sound that works wonders on the listener.
Monument isn’t that different from its predecessor in Etazhi, but it is nonetheless doing enough things differently to serve as a commendable next step in Molchat Doma’s sonic evolution. In the realm of the “synthwave resurgence” that’s been booming since about 2015 or so, Molchat Doma have stood out firmly from the rest of the pack for multiple reasons, not merely for having a vocal dimension while many other artists remain purely instrumental, but also for simply feeling a lot more dynamic, layered, and all around fun than their competition.
Hail to the synthwave rebirth, especially to these wonderful composers from the land of sgushenka and of fine chocolates.
-- Sahar Alzilu
Monument released today, November 13th, 2020 via Sacred Bones Records.