Near as I can tell, the plot in the lyrics of Evil Cosmonaut’s “Boris Yeltsin vs. Giant Ants” is that huge bugs come and attack the world. Buildings fall, people die, and then Boris Yeltsin shows up, does an evil dance, and saves the planet. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that’s fucking awesome. Much of the Moscow three-piece’s R.A.I.G. debut, We Have Landed, follows that kind of course – not always to such heights of badassery, but nonetheless with a notable degree of charm. “My Moustache” calls its titular subject, “My present from God,” and “Armageddon” playfully name-checks the stars of the 1998 blockbuster, even going so far as to mention Steve Buscemi. That, in combination with the clay artwork, the crunchy tone of guitarist/vocalist Alex “Kaza” Kazachev and the bluesy groove of “The Song We Will Never Play Again,” seems to make We Have Landed a record that gets by more on personality than innovation, but whatever does it does it. The album’s nine tracks and 42 minutes feel quick, songs vary enough to hold interest, and periodic bursts of punkish energy keep the pace from being mired by sleepy stonerisms. A mostly dry production keeps Evil Cosmonaut grounded from where some of the space-program thematics might otherwise take them, giving the album a garage-esque feel at times, but between Kazachev and bassist Denis “Memphis Dead” Petrov, the tones are thicker than most of what passes these days for that aesthetic. It’s all rock.
And if anything, it’s hard to pick a highlight from among We Have Landed’s fare. “Armageddon” certainly makes a case for itself, with its rudimentary chugging riff and live feel, as well as its lyrics, but “Old Guy Neil,” which recalls the moon landing and Neil Armstrong’s first steps out of the craft, starts the album off with a crisp (if somewhat misleading) aggressive bent and foretells a lot of the perspective to come. Drummer Konstantin Sosnin, the only member of Evil Cosmonaut without a nickname, is straightforward in his approach and well-suited to Kazachev’s riffs, which for the most part lead the way. The upbeat shuffle of “Marvin” – either an inside joke or a reference I don’t get to an old man who lives in a cave – features some of We Have Landed’s best fuzz, to be later complemented by closer “The Golden Apples of the Sun,” and maintains the forward motion of the opener, leading to the even more rocking “Big Super Mega Monsters,” which earns its chorus shout of the title line late in the track. The song can’t help but be memorable with a name like that, but the music stands up to it with a marked simplicity of approach and a cheeky self-awareness that matches Kazachev’s vocal. However simple the album might seem, Evil Cosmonaut have a clear mindfulness of structure, as “The Song We Will Never Play Again” shows by slowing down the momentum of “Big Super Mega Monsters” and giving way in turn to the middle-pacing of “Armageddon.” Given the tongue-in-cheek nature of most of the lyrics – here a drunken alien abduction is recounted – I’d doubt the veracity of the title “The Song We Will Never Play Again,” or at least hope it’s not true, since the song’s relatively lumbering groove is among the album’s most fascinating assets.
Specifically so because of the guitar tone. Take a cut like “The Song We Will Never Play Again” or “Armageddon,” put them in a different lyrical context – maybe slow them down a little – and either wouldn’t be out of place on a retro doom record. Kazachev’s guitar fuzz works in the various forms it shows up, but is more classic heavy than modern stoner, which places Evil Cosmonaut in a more individual position when it comes to the Russian scene around them. The fact that they probably know it and still choose to have fun singing about moustaches and giant ants and landing on the moon bodes well for their future individual development. Someone, be it Kazachev, Petrov – who’s given his highlight performance on “Armageddon” prior to “My Moustache” – or Sosnin, does a muppet vocal at the start of “Boris Yeltsin vs. Giant Ants,” and the air couldn’t be lighter, more unabashed fun. We Have Landed, given added contextual presence by the guitar tone, is foremost a good time. Lead notes and fervent crashes cut “Boris Yeltsin vs. Giant Ants” in half, giving way to a slower but more bluesy riff and groove over which Kazachev professes his love for the former Russian president’s smiling face (“when somebody dies”). The part feels cut short, and “Born Astronaut” more revives the shuffle of “Marvin” than adds anything to it stylistically, but if We Have Landed doesn’t already have you hooked on charm alone, you might as well give up; it’s just not going to happen. For me, the quick two and a half minutes is almost subsumed as a precursor to the closer’s loose-knit jamming and more doomed vibe.
Far removed from the no-frills punch of “Old Guy Neil,” “The Golden Apples of the Sun” results in Evil Cosmonaut’s most weighted riffing – particularly the last three minutes or so, in which a lurching progression marches We Have Landed to its conclusion. I don’t know if it’s a fitting conclusion musically, given all the good times preceding, but to analyze it on that level feels like overkill. Rather, We Have Landed seems to be asking for enjoyment on its own terms, which beg little indulgence and offer substance enough to hold up the jokes and the fun. Whether it’s the intricacy of tone or the rawness of presentation, Evil Cosmonaut balance creativity and familiarity in a natural way and however conscious of structure and overall flow they might be, they don’t make it obvious. The performances on We Have Landed could be tighter, but I almost think the album would lose some of its charm if they were, and since charm is so much of what it has going for it, my inclination is to leave it alone. Cool record, unassuming, unpretentious, heavy rocking. I’m not about to fuck with that formula. It probably won’t change your worldview, but its aims are nowhere near that lofty.
Tags: Evil Cosmonaut, Moscow, R.A.I.G., Russia