It's probably fair to say that most artists strive for some degree of originality, some unique form of expression which defines them as doing something other than simply recycling what somebody else did ten years earlier with more conviction. This is fine if you've got sufficient budget to ensure your being heard, but it's more of a problem if you haven't, and what audience you can muster tends to regard you as cute but a bit weird. By unique form of expression I'm not talking bands who sample their own intestinal rumblings whilst quoting Yukio Mishima - there's plenty of outlets for that sort of thing. Vostok Lake are neither particularly shocking nor bizarre, but neither do they have quite enough mainstream credentials to grease the pistons of that charabanc to commercial success, or at least to getting on one of the larger stages without attracting the unwarranted attention of security hominids.
Vostok Lake is the vehicle of Daphne Lawless - possibly New Zealand's best kept secret, or one of them, although admittedly I'm not exactly an authority on that corner of the globe; and Small Group Psychosis is her fourth full length album. Her previous efforts have not been wanting for memorable tracks, but somehow I was always left with the impression that the recordings never quite matched Daphne's aspirations. The keyboards and percussion might suggest the Human League, but the layered strata of melody and the mathematically acrobatic compositions betray a Jethro Tull influence, all adding up to something that's maybe a bit Dresden Dolls, a bit Sisters of Mercy, a bit from column C except it doesn't exactly sound like any of those; and it's probably easier to list who Vostok Lake don't sound like - which is roughly speaking everyone else.
Previous albums have been so nearly there, but the combination of Soft Cell as progressive rock and Daphne's strong, almost operatic voice have never quite blended into a consistent whole; but she's been at this a while now and this is probably the one.
Actually, I've been playing nothing else since I first got mine in the mail. It's not an immediate listen, but it grows quickly, and Vostok Lake have at last delivered something which is carried by the sheer strength of the songs, and seeing as how that was never an issue, this could quite conceivably be an album of the decade regardless of how many bods actually get to hear it. The melodies tease hairs up from the back of the neck in all the right places, the synthetic bass lines remain warmly seductive, and the occasional vocal histrionics never fall flat - Yonder Lies the Sea, a dead thing and the title track are in particular world class, the sort of songs you end up playing over and over until the disc comes to resemble a circlet of Bacofoil. If you've ever lost it over Klaus Nomi, Kate Bush, or Split Enz - just to throw three further loose comparisons into the soup - you should probably get this, an album far, far greater than the sum of its parts.
Also of interest may be www.vostoklake.org
This review revises one originally posted on the Ce Acatl blog back in May, 2010.