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RUSSIAN TSARLAG – UNEXPLAINED AMERICAN GOAT

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Released at the end of 2016, Russian Tsarlag’s Unexplained American Goat was one of my favorite records of the year. The record pushes Russian Tsarlag’s outsider crooning from experimental music into the realm of Americana desolation balladry. Songs are reduced to single notes and slowly march on creating a structural minimalism as well as a sense of being empty or even haunted. The reverb on the vocals is a ethereal as the vast swathes of negative space populating the moments between sparse guitar (or spare keyboard lullabies) and somnolent drum. While a unique presence in its own right, Unexplained American Goat brings evokes Xpressway and 90s lo-fi New Zealand indie rock more than on any previous release – especially in the experimental flourishes of “This Box.” Russian Tsarlag is at its best here, creating music that is shines through as it pares away any excess until only the spare, minimalist essentials are left. That such simplicity can be so enchanting is truly a wonder.

Following up this LP on Wharf Cat Records, Russian Tsarlag has released Gel Stations Past, a compilation LP of cassettes issued a few years ago. The record, released by Goaty Tapes and House Rules, features equally melancholy songs but with an odder, somewhat larger sound that lands closer to the Not Not Fun Records releases.

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