By Andrew B. White
Kingdom is the second album from emerging Russian artist Gayana. Her first album, the seven track Reborn, was released in 2013 and Kingdom continues with the 80s-inspired direction of the debut. She collaborates once again with producer Vladimir Boytsov who does an excellent job on the production, recording and mixing and he also contributes some tasty electric and synth basslines. Kingdom echoes the sound of the mid-late 80s and early 90s. To me, artists like Amy Grant, Sophie B. Hawkins and Martika come to mind. Gayana’s vocals are suitably restrained meaning Kingdom is no ‘diva’ album — she sings ‘with’ the music, not over it or against it.
I’m assuming that Gayana is a Russian native and that English is her second language. Here, she’s made the decision to sing the whole of the album in English which may also contribute to the restraint of the vocals. Singing in a language you are less familiar with may affect the delivery. I’m not implying that Gayana doesn’t have big chops or that any of the songs sound clunky. It is more a case of the lyrics not always being obvious or in-your-face and could be part of the reason the vocals blend well with the music. So, for someone who is not singing in their native language, Gayana does an excellent job.
The instrumentation of Kingdom is clean, rounded and strong. The electric and synth basslines are great with mixture melodic runs and solid underpinning of the drums. Electric guitars feature for rhythmic and lead duties, played and mixed appropriately to emulate the era they reference. As far as synths go, pads and ‘tinkly’ elements feature and it sounds as if these are mainly provided by a Roland Juno 106 for extra authenticity. There is a mixture of programmed and [most likely] live drums played on electronic kit. It’s hard to tell with drums these days but the live videos of Gayana show her performing with a drummer.
Kingdom opens with a short track running in at 1:36, appropriately called ‘Intro’. Gayana does indeed introduce herself in rhyme, over a playful early 80s, Herbie Hancock-style hip-hop beat. It’s fun and a contrast to the more serious nature of the rest of the album. Second track ‘Work’ sets up a swaggering funk-lite groove and is probably the least ‘80s’ sounding track on the album.
Next up is the sublime ‘Claustrophobia’ – a mid-tempo track you might hear 3/4 of the way through an 80s movie when two characters are temporarily apart and contemplating their future. It also features a very nice keyboard solo and Gayana’s voice work on the outro is a nice touch. ‘Land of Lies’ is pinned with an underlying spiky, arpeggiated synth, topped with a DX7-ish marimba melody an occasional, well-placed swelled synth brass. Overall a brooding, dark-sounding cut.
‘Pilgrim’ starts with the familiar sound of a cassette being inserted into a tape deck. Although the song is up-tempo, it doesn’t ever break into a full drum beat, instead maintaining a sustained tension throughout. The title track ‘Kingdom’ is a soulful pop number, again featuring subtle, yet familiar DX7 sounds and a gospel vocal chorus with a vocal reprise after the song ends.
‘The Judge’ points in the direction of Phil Collins’ ‘In The Air Tonight’, using sparse drum programming and vocals, gradually building to big drums and electric guitars. Like the character of the same name, ‘Terminator’ does sound very ‘cyborg’ in its delivery, although it is not industrial or hard-edged sounding. Like ‘Pilgrim’, the track sustains a tension throughout and although it is up-tempo, the snare drum is only played at ‘half time’, making all the difference to the outcome of the song. If the snare had been played at 4/4, the track would have sounded very frantic indeed.
Of all the tracks on the album ‘Matilda’ is the most ‘pop’ and follows the formula of the ‘observational narrative’. This has been done many times before by a variety of artists as a tried-and-true method of story telling in the third person and it woks just as well here. The closing track ‘Touch My Music’ is one of the best on the album. Mid-tempo, great sounding drums and subtle electric funk bass, lovely synths and guitars with Gayana’s vocals confidently floating over the top. Excellent.
Fans of Sheryl Crow’s first Hugh Padgham produced ‘unreleased’ album (featuring ‘Hundreds of Tears’ from the Point Break movie) will definitely appreciate where this album is coming from. Kingdom is not a ‘retro’ album but is an example of artists pulling influences from the 80s and combining them with a modern-day approach to great effect.
Credits for the album are hard to find as is any additional info on Gayana, especially in English. She’s supported the likes of Tesla Boy and her live performances on YouTube show Gayana and her band to be dynamic and very much together musically. Combine this with the fact she is concentrating on singing in English I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before she break out of Russia and is exposed to other parts of the world.
At this point there doesn’t seem to be any physical product available for Kingdom but you can get it on Bandcamp here in digitally downloadable formats and of course on iTunes and Spotify, be sure to check out and subscribe to Gayana's YouTube channel here too. The album comes very highly recommended by Synthetix.FM.