AUTHOR'S NOTE: AS OF MARCH 10 I HAVE BEEN INFORMED THE MP3 PART OF THIS SITE IS NOT FUNCTIONING. I AM DETERMINING IF THIS IS DELIBERATE.
It's a good thing I don't speak Russian, or I'd be screaming "Are you nuts?"
That might cause Two Siberians to remove the free copies of what appears to be most of their albums except the 2005 release Out Of Nowhere from their official site . Downloading them is a bit tricky due to the language thing, but is an exceptional discovery likely to appeal to tastes across the sound spectrum.
The composing, improvisation and interplay between guitarist Yuri Matveyev and violinist Artyom Yakushenko is so far beyond most free downloads it feels like theft - indeed, I did some extra browsing to ensure the files were legal. Whether they're doing soothing classically inclined compositions, eclectic folk or Hendrix-like rock, they consistently spike songs with everything from long vocal-like expressions to drumroll-pace pickings with mastery.
Out Of Nowhere is billed as their "debut" release. But their Web site lists nine albums recorded since 1995, including a 2003 date for Out Of Nowhere , so I can only assume the debut reference means the first available outside whatever musical region they occupy.
The 83 songs in MP3 format represent five albums recorded between 2000 and 2004, totaling 4.5 hours in length and 250MB in size. It takes a moment to realize clicking on the song titles doesn't work; users must select the tiny arrows to the right. All but 2000's Out Of The Woods and 2002's Next 2 feature song titles with Russian lettering, a potential source of trouble for some computers - and the reason most aren't listed here. Renumbering them during the download process with the year and song number (i.e. "Two Siberians 2004-01") should solve this if necessary.
Their 2004 release (one of those Russian titles I found impossible to display correctly in a browser - AAA EIDIEB is a close approximation) is something akin to Two Siberians Unplugged, with compositions heavy on classical and folk influences. It's an outstanding starting point since their talents can be experienced without the gimmicks or overwhelming beats of some other albums. The sixth song (we're bypassing names, except the very few in English) is one of many where Yakushenko puts an amazingly mournful and vocal quality on his melody lines, with Matveyev plucking out an increasingly gripping rhythm alongside him. They reverse roles and play far fewer notes on the ninth song, but the playful tune tells a sharp and whimsical tale as Matveyev displays a mastery of upper- fretboard harmonics.
They get upbeat, but remain acoustic at the beginning of their 2002 album, with a blend of Russian folk and Spanish guitar interludes. Mixing of various ethnic themes remains pretty consistent throughout, with a hint of what else they're capable of on the fifth and thirteenth tracks as Matveyev gets out the electric guitar and delves into rock territory.
Plenty more instrumental rock, along with some techno and ambient performances, are on the albums Next 2 and Next 3. They also feature a number of the more laid-back compositions found on the first two albums mentioned here, making them impressive statements of variety, if something less of a cohesive listen.
Finally, Out Of The Woods returns to lower-key compositions, but with a somewhat less organic flair - it feels a bit too New Agey for their talents. As a standalone download it would still rank above average; in this collection it's the weakest link, so to speak, although a few songs such as "Sad Heart" are impressive.
The video is an interesting chance to watch them perform, but less impressive than the albums from a quality standpoint. Those with enough bandwidth can download it, watch it and trash it without worry; others might want to save themselves the time.
Out Of Nowhere is getting strong early reviews and its world debut may keep the collection of other albums from languishing in obscurity too much longer. Commercial success might also mean the duo wises up and sells them through more traditional means, so hopefully it's not too much puffery to suggest grabbing them now. It's early, but I have a hunch this collection will be revisited at length near the end of 2005 when it's time to compile the inevitable list of the year's best online discoveries.