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Motorama: Russia’s Best Kept Secret

Motorama‘s early years were plagued by comparisons to Joy Division. I didn’t really want to go there, but there is really no denying the similarities and it was these similarities that actually made me stop and notice Motorama in the first place. To ignore the similarities would be silly. Suffice it to say that, though they sound vaguely similar on the surface, that’s where the comparison ends for me. What makes Motorama so fantastic is the way they have used their particular “sound” via mixing and production, to create their unique musical aesthetic to give us some really memorable music.

Sometime in 2015, I was in Taipei doing a bit of vinyl shopping at the Eslite Bookstore in XimenTing. At the time, Eslite was one of the best places for vinyl in Taiwan. They had a huge record store area and a huge selection of thousands of records and CDs. I knew that a visit to Eslite usually meant about 4 hours or more.

For some reason, on this particular afternoon, I was perusing the records and listening to whatever was playing in the store instead of my hiding out in my headphones listening to my MP3 player as I normally would, when suddenly, the music that I was hearing had a familiar yet unfamiliar quality to it. True, there was something in the timber of the recording that was reminiscent of Joy Division, but the real surprise was the quality of the lead singer’s voice. It sounded eerily like Ian Curtis. Bear in mind that I was in a giant record store filled with all kinds of sounds, including different music coming over speakers at each corner of the room (apparently Taiwanese have no problem with multiple songs playing at the same time while shopping for music). I think I can be forgiven for mistaking Vladislav Parshin‘s vocals for Ian Curtis.

There is an eerie similarity in the lilting quality of their voices, and in the way Vlad sometimes sings from the back of his throat, but there is also a gentleness to Vlad‘s vocals that is missing from Ian‘s. While a smile can sometimes be heard in Vlad‘s voice, I don’t think the same can be said for Ian Curtis.

I stopped what I was doing and just sat there for a moment, on the floor, in front of the shelf of records, and listened to the music. As the first song became the second song and then the third, I knew for certain that not only was this NOT Joy Division, they weren’t actually trying to sound like them at all. Yes, the vocals were in the same style, and the production had a similar minimalist Joy Division aesthetic to the way it was mixed, but they were definitely doing their own thing. Very few of the songs had that brooding, dark quality that Joy Division is so well known for. The songs were far more uplifting than anything Joy Division had ever done. Instead, the music used the same sparse instrumentality to create a wide, airy soundstage that felt light rather than dark.

Needless to say, I had to find out who it was and, if it was available on vinyl, I was definitely going to buy the album!

It turns out that it was Motorama. One of the staff at the Eslite store was a fan, and had put on their personal copy of the then-newest album, “Poverty”. It was indeed available on vinyl (fancy white vinyl to be precise, though I’d have preferred back to be honest), so of course I bought it! I wasn’t disappointed.

Later that evening, I went on Amazon to see what else was available from the band, and ended up buying the 1st and second albums “Alps” and “Calendar” on vinyl as well. I also bout the 7” singles Eyes and She is There since the A and B sides of both singles were non-album tracks (Ah! The joys of saving money on combined shipping!). I had decided to take a gamble on the other releases because the quality of the material on “Poverty” was such that, even if only half of the songs on the other albums were as good, they were worth getting. It turns out that it was a really good gamble because all three albums and both singles are really good!

Officially described as a Post-Punk band, Motorama are originally from Rostov-on-Don in Russia. The band has gone few a couple of line-up changes over the years, but a few core members have remained the same: Vladislav Parshin provides the vocals and guitar, and is one of the main song writers in the band, often with Irene Parshina, who plays bass. Other band members include Maxim Polivanov on guitar, Alexander Norets on keyboards, and Roman Belenkiy on drums (touring drummer is credited as Mikhail Nikulin).

Their first couple of self-released mini-albums, “Horse” (2008) and “Bear” (2009) were met with enthusiasm, but were heavily compared to Joy Division. With the release of 2010’s “Alps”, however, the band made a slight change in direction that allowed them to continue to be true to their artistic vision, but to explore their music without constant comparisons. The music became lighter, airier, and more optimistic. The hype sticker on my copy of the album proclaims it as “12 pop pearls that owe as much to Joy Division as to Belle and Sebastian“. Seeing how Belle and Sebastian so well known for their their lush horns and strings, I don’t personally hear them in Motorama’s sound, but I can feel a similar vibe in the overall feeling of the music. It’s not quite twee, but even when it rocks, it’s gentle.

From 2012’s “Calendar”, 2015’s “Poverty”, 2016’s “Dialogues”, and 2018’s “Many Nights”, each successive album brought new layers and new ideas into the mix, while still retaining that initial minimalist aesthetic. Each album feels like its own journey and you can definitely hear the band’s progression if you listen to them back to back in order.

Having amicably parted ways with their home of ten years, Talitres Records, their latest music has been self-released via their own record company, I’m Home Records, which is the new home not only of Motorama, but of the bandmembers’ various side project (many with vocals in their native Russian). It’s still early days, and we’re still in the middle of a global pandemic (the gift that keeps on giving), so it remains to be seen how easy it will be to get our hands on physical copies of the new material. So far, however, digital is easily available from streaming platforms and via their Bandcamp page, and I’ve been assured that a vinyl edition of the new album, “Before the Road” will be available to pre-order in this month (also via their Bandcamp page) with the vinyl expected to be available in October!

I am hoping that the two non-album tracks from 2020, The New Era and Today and Everyday, will be appended to the vinyl release of the “Before the Road” LP (especially because the album’s title seems to come from the lyrics of Today and Everyday) but I am not holding my breath. At the very least I would hope for a 7” release, but since the songs are already over a year old, it seems unlikely! I am especially fond of The New Era and would love to have a physical copy. Between it’s technopop sound and Vlad‘s falsetto on the chorus, it may not appeal to everyone, it is quite a departure from previous releases, but I really like it!

If you’re just discovering Motorama, you can definitely start with their latest album, “Before the Road”, to see what they are up to now. If you want to dig a big deeper into their back catalogue then I would wholeheartedly recommend “Poverty”, since it is one of my favourite albums. I am particularly fond of their first three albums, actually. If you just want to dip your toes in and test the water, here is a playlist for you to check out. Below the playlist I have also embedded Bandcamp playlists of “Before the Road” and “Poverty”. Hopefully you’ll be as immediately drawn to their sound as I was!

What do you think? Had you heard of Motorama before? Are you a fan? I’d love to hear from you!

Have I missed anything? Are there any songs I should have included in our playlist? Drop me a line in the comment section below! Remember to subscribe so that you don’t miss our next monthly (ish) post (We’ll never bother you more than once a month). PLUS! subscribers get a discount on any purchase made from us.

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