he music on the latest album by Gert Emmens is inspired by
the life and work of Yuri Pugachov (www.pugachov.ru) - a late
Russian painter that happens to be my father. Of course I am biased
when writing this review, as this project means really a lot to me.
I would like to thank Gert for this wonderful endeavor and I
must say the results have surpassed my expectations. I will try to
only describe the music itself here, without referring too much to
the subject matter so as to not become too subjective when judging
this album's merits.
"Cossack Temperament" describes the period of my father's
childhood and adolescence, as well as certain character traits.
After a very brief atmospheric intro, a wonderful melodic sequence
starts, accompanied by mournful mellotron strings. A typical
theremin-like lead line is heard in what sounds like a classic
Emmens track. There's a hymn-like quality to the music, which is
full of life, joy and at the same time is somewhat melancholic. A
brief atmospheric section is a welcomed change. After that, an even
more effective sequencer section appears, that combines the floating
quality of Gert's pads and atmospheres with assertiveness of
the multiple pulsations. It's tense and easy-going, anguished and
relaxed, melancholic and bright. The track closes with yet another
section dominated by fat cascading sequences and Gert's
trademark (very earthly, not cosmic) minimoog soloing. I loved this
"The Long Walk (Towards the Black Sea)" reflects a period of
traveling for my dad, when he literally walked by feet the whole
eastern coast of the Black Sea, from Batumi (now in Georgia) to
southern Crimea, painting landscapes mainly. A marching rhythm
serves as the basis for this track's first part, helped by a
one-note bass sequence and lots of classic analog sounds (including
some trademark mellotron patches). There's also a nice melodic
sensibility in this track that sets it apart from many other current
EM works. It has that nature-inspired romanticism you don't
encounter often nowadays. An excellent atmospheric section follows.
I must say that Gert's ambient parts have never sounded as
full and deep as on this album. He has really refined his
sound-sculpting and atmosphere-creating abilities to perfection.
Then a majestic galloping sequence / pad combination that just takes
your breath away! It grips you with its beauty and doesn't let go. I
was not born when my father did his "little journey" but listening
to this track I can vividly imagine how exciting it might have been
for him, how many beautiful places he saw and painted, how many
people met and how many miles he walked. A shadowy world of clanging
ambient textures and mellotron choir wraps up this wonderful track
as the journey finally reaches its end.
"Paintings - The Themes" is the longest track at just under
17 minutes. It's straight into business this time, with great
melodic sequencing ("Gert style") and mourn ful pads. Fat,
symphonic synthesizer textures ala Vangelis make an
appearance, giving an epic quality to the track. From beneath the
blanket of impeccably constructed sequencer pulsations a harmonica
lead line appears, reinforcing the Vangelis analogy. The
sequences are lilting, passionate, assertive, lively. And there are
really lots of them here. A four-note melodic theme welcomes the
coming of a brief atmospheric section after which an assertive bass
sequence appears. This section, with its excellent, rolling
sequences and symphonic string chords is easily one of the EM
highlights from 2012. Overall, the track is the crowning jewel of
the album, although all tracks were great so far. It finally
climaxes into a melange of dramatic pads and symphonic textures
before fading out. "Paintings - The Spirituality Behind It"
strikes a darker note with it's thick fog of atmospheric textures
and a steady bass drum pulse, before complex melodic sequencing
takes us to familiar territory but w ith a different twist on
Gert's typical sequencer music. On this track, the trademark
harmonica lead makes a triumphant return in a much more subdued and
melancholic setting. The track ends with dramatic pads and
synthesized atmospheres enveloping you. "The Leningrad Years"
starts with a great atmospheric intro by Cadenced Heaven.
Reflecting my father's most productive and best-known period, the
music has a fittingly busy and uplifting vibe to it. Then an analog
goodness of a sequence by Ruud Heij appears, well in the
style of Emmens / Heij collaborations. After a rhythm starts,
in comes what I can only describe as Gert's best ever soloing.
The excellent use of modulation wheel gives the lead line a kind of
depth, subtlety, grandeur and emotion that are just indescribable. A
nice use of oboe reminds us on great Russian classical traditions.
And the roll calling between the oboe and synth was an excellent
idea. On the other hand, Gert's most unusual and experimental
ideas found their way on the following track, "Darkness Unfolds".
After an atmospheric intro, a strange bubbling sequence appears and
a metallic rhythm drives forward the track that is chock-full of
melancholic pads and reflective symphonic solos. It's still
Emmens style but seen through a dark window that leads to the
otherworld. After a brief section of dark sounds, a whirlpool of
uplifting sequence picks us up and takes us to an unknown territory
filled with sweet chord progressions and soft analog rhythms. This
is probably the best section of the album. The track ends with a
chilly atmospheric part with what sounds like a telephone ringing
and distant choirs. "Yuri Pugachov - In Memoriam" is a short
tribute that is uplifting and gentle.
With tears in my eyes and a strange, pleasant sensation inside, I
finish this review. I have seen this album criticized slightly for
not bringing anything new to Gert Emmens sound but I have to
disagree. First of all, there are lots of new interesting sounds on
"An Artist's Stroke". Secondly, it's quite different in mood
to his previous efforts - more personal, emotional and atmospheric.
Even the chord progression (one of Gert's trademarks) is
often quite different from what we're used to hear. There are no
weak or strong tracks on this album, because "An Artist's Stroke"
is a complete journey. I've said it many times, but I am afraid I'll
have to repeat it here: this is Gert Emmens' best album, with
or without bias. I wonder if my father can hear this music, from
wherever he is now... I think, yes.