I confess, I have been looking forward to this album for quite a while now, and I am so happy to finally be able to give it a listen. I have enjoyed Daria Kulesh’s unique musical style and fantastic singing voice since I first came across her at Oxford Folk Weekend last year, and this concept album about her ancestral home of Ingushetia is intriguing with its beautiful artwork, stunning photographs, and the lovely stories that are told in the sleeve notes. 'Tamara' opens exactly how I imagined it would, with a haunting lead vocal line accompanied by an ominous sound from the Shruti box, before the percussion comes in to give a decidedly Central-Asian feel that works so well. It is a strong opener, and sets the album up perfectly for what I hope will be a truly enjoyable journey.
The mood changes completely with 'The Moon and the Pilot'; a beautiful piano melody accompanies vocals that sound as if they were written at the time of the tragic events that they describe. While I am listening to it, I do not even want to get up to refill my wine: the gift Daria Kulesh has for telling stories in her music is far too captivating for my attention to be drawn away to anything else. A more upbeat diversion is brought about in 'Safely Wed', a charming tale of “folk wisdom and common sense”, as the sleeve notes read.
As 'Amanat' gets underway with a wonderful mixture of various Central Asian and Middle Eastern musical influences, I start reading some of the comments given on my press sheet. The album has already had high praise, and it hasn’t even been released at the time of writing! A “brave exciting celebration of the unique identity, spirit, culture, history and traditions of Ingushetia” it certainly is, and FATEA are already calling it a contender for album of the year… It certainly does feel that way! I cannot recall the last time I heard an album that draws together such a variety of styles and makes everything sound fresh and new; the only thing more beautiful than the music so far is the package that it comes in!
As well as Kulesh’s unique songwriting ability, Long Lost Home showcases some traditional Ingush music in 'Gyanar Bezam'; it is a lovely listen, but the arrangement sounds nicely modernised in a way that actually reminds me of one of the calmer Armenian ballads that Serj Tankian occasionally sings in his solo work. It is also great to have a translation of the lyrics as well, though I do admittedly wish that the Ingush lyrics were also included in the booklet.
One thing I have always thought Daria Kulesh’s voice works well with is the Waltz-y and Cabaret-style tracks that she comes out with, particularly with some of her previous work with her other project, Kara, and 'The Panther' is reminiscent of this; as is its following song, the more upbeat 'Like a God'. With the music this captivating and progressive, it is admittedly difficult to keep in mind the morbid and desperate history of which she is singing, but perhaps this contrast actually works really well, especially with the catchy chorus.
The regimented percussion and Scottish smallpipes are a surprising addition to 'Heart’s Delight', but the contrasting mixture of traditions and styles really works, and it builds on a wonderful fusion that Daria Kulesh’s work has become known for in Kara, and she continues to make it work on her solo compositions. Though this is overshadowed somewhat by 'Gone', immediately after it; the emotion that Kulesh sings this song with is evident even in a recording, and as my own internationally-leaning political views and experiences are hardly a secret, this is a song that really speaks to me personally. A poignant question is raised in the sleeve notes, "when did we stop being kind"?
'Untangle My Bones' twists around the sound of the album again, changing and developing it into a very satisfying musical finale that incorporates elements of everything we have heard so far whilst still again sounding so fresh and new, On first impressions alone, I can safely say that this is truly a remarkable album; so unlike anything I have ever heard before and well deserving of all the praise I have seen it receive. The Caucuses, Central Asia, and Britain come together well in this brilliantly thought-out album, and a multitude of different musical styles are fused with ease and grace, delighting listeners with every new song and also providing a valuable history lesson and insight into a culture so fascinating that I now have the Wikipedia page for Ingushetia open in the next window to read more about the place. I am sure that I will end up adding Ingushetia to my already-extensive list of places to travel to; for now though, I will also have to make sure not to miss Daria Kulesh on her extensive album launch tour over the next couple of months.