What is it that draws me in...

Review by (July 2, 2004)

Photo courtesy Kiev: Maia Vidal (front), Slyvie Froncek (left), Taylor Quin (right)
[Author's note: In January 2005 Kiev officially changed their name to Kievan Rus.]

Something wonderful has happened in Ithaca, New York. Three girls have found their musical voice, a voice that intrigues, stuns and is full of surprises. The group's name is Kiev, three sophomores in high school: Maia Vidal on bass, Taylor Quan on guitar, Slyvie Froncek on drums. They founded their band in November 2003, and a few months later recorded their first CD, "Get Out of My Basement", produced by local Ithaca musician Park Doing. You can read all about Kiev at their Website or in the Ithaca Journal articles ([1],[2],[3]) featuring them. I want to write about their music.

Nine songs in just under 26 minutes, and yet it's amazing what they achieve. In my opinion "Get Out of My Basement" is the most honest musical statement since the Velvet Underground and Nico (1966). The first song, "La Corrida" starts out with a parole "Fight to the Death", an absurdist children's rhyme, a spontaneous burst of emotion, then suddenly switches to French. Before anyone can catch their breath they are immersed into the sensuous "Velvet Revolution". Then there's "Control", which I'll come back to later. "Bloody Shy" is as close as they get to high school themes, though light years apart from a typical "high school band", just one of the labels that simply falls away from them in droves. In that song they capture an archetypal shyness seldom talked about, the antithesis of the shy person who is really wild on the inside, underlining the idea with a beautiful and sensitive instrumental part. "Broer's Song", a song about love, attraction and accepting that something has gone wrong, makes me stop and listen each time it plays. Sincerity flows magically from lead singer Maia's lips. "Superman" contains some deeply seductive moments and shows the band's keen sense of humor in cornering the icon of perfect virtue. The perfectly named "Sugar in the Wound" (you have to hear it to understand) and the seriously rhythmic "Classified", sound completely new and innovative. The final song on the CD, "Crushing on Anna" is an endearing tribute to a former band mate who moved to New Zealand.

So "what is it that draws me in," as Maia sings? It is a rare combination: vocals that in their own way fascinate like the voices of Nico or Björk. Anti-clichés scattered here and there, defying classification and reflecting something real, and songs bursting with artistic nuances. The poetry, the sensitive and thoughtful blend of bass, drum and guitar with the sophisticated lyrics that are actually SAYING SOMETHING. All of it complementing each other. The attention to detail, because that is the life blood and pulse of any lasting work. The signature of a playful sense of humor hanging over it all. This is music to seduce minds. With "Get Out of My Basement" Kiev has arrived at a creative station that many top 100 bands drive around in circles trying to find. Their debut CD is a meaningful artistic statement and anyone disillusioned with the superficiality of mainstream music will very likely agree.

Discovering Kiev's music was special to me, as I now count "Get Out of My Basement" to my favorites. One of their songs in particular especially moved me, a song they named "Control". With Kiev's kind permission I reproduce the lyrics here:

You see I am now so addicted, to the idea of this inflicted
Disease of choice that brings us to our knees
where is your voice when you are screaming please?

Say your last good byes, free will is going quickly
Don't look in their eyes, cause there is no sanity
Making humble pie won't get you anywhere here
So don't compromise cause you'll be living in...

Show up unchanged to face temptation, a world of hate, no real sensation
Taking the breath that swims in your lips
They take the wheel you bend and they dip


Make me believe that I'm in control, that fate has no hold over my soul
Words that are foreign whisper off of my tongue
Pick up the phone to find it hasn't rung


Cause you'll be living in fear...

What can I say about this song? It stuns me, gets under my skin and then cuts to the bone. The song is a powerful and chilling statement. I take it as an anthem of a nightmare time: The bass line sounding like mindless marching boots, almost gleeful in what they are doing, searching for their next victim, like the boot George Orwell mentioned: "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face -- for ever." There's a quality in the vocal that I can't exactly describe: resolve and defiance in the face of futility. No surrender at all. Not really desperation or panic but a realization that these are the last moments. Like the last words to carry on the fight, spoken during a pirate station's final seconds before it is permanently silenced. The listener is left with an ominous feeling of "this is the end now", as the boots return one last time. The thought police are here.

I don't know if Kiev wrote "Control" to reflect the current mood in America, but even if not, it manages to fit. That's what makes this song so powerful, the fact that it is not tied to a particular event with names or other specifics. The message is timeless and universal.

So what genre is Kiev? Does it really matter? The Ithaca Journal says they are a punk-pop-rock band but I would rather not decide. The music is too substantial to call pop. And it doesn't contain the undirected, nihilistic anger of traditional punk bands. It certainly rocks. Perhaps it is the best of all worlds. As Kiev's guitarist Taylor wrote to me:

"We do our thing and keep going on...much like the energizer bunny. We may not always escape from the mainstream's 'sorting-of-a-band' but we try our best and play music!!!"

I concur. And as for length, this CD is not too short. Kiev says in 26 minutes what some bands never say in a whole career. Each time I listen to one of their songs I seem to find something new, because of the sophistication and meaning on many levels. Maybe they didn't intend everything the way I interpreted it, but if a person is truly creative that person will always put more into a creative work than intended, just from the feeling of what belongs. I won't say that Kiev has a great future ahead of them. Or that they have great promise. That would be condescending to say and beside the point. As far as I'm concerned, with "Get Out of My Basement" they've already created an enduring work of art. My advice to anyone yearning for music that makes an unpretentious, honest statement: you need a ticket to Kiev.

[Author's note: In January 2005 Kiev officially changed their name to Kievan Rus.]

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