iamthemorning: Lighthouse

Russian duo make a splash channelling Plath and Woolf.

iamthemorning The Lighthouse album artwork

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Who knew the Russians were so intense?

Okay, everybody, but few are aware they’re making music like this. At the risk of playing up lazy, wildly inaccurate national stereotypes, Russian prog, at least in the hands of iamthemorning, appears to be epic, ambitious, harrowing and emotionally punishing. It’s also life-affirming, beautiful and heavenly. This is an album which, from first listen, you know is monumental. Then the more time you give it, the more it yields. Lighthouse is at war with its demons and at peace with its own elegance.

Iamthemorning are a duo consisting of vocalist Marjana Semkina and pianist Gleb Kolyadin. Following a self-released debut, 2014’s Belighted was their first for Kscope and woke up the West to their talent. After touring Europe with Gazpacho, the word is spreading. Guest musicians on this work of wonder include Porcupine Tree alumni Gavin Harrison on drums and Colin Edwin on bass, while Riverside’s Mariusz Duda adds vocals and bass on the title track. The album – recorded in London, Moscow and St Petersburg – makes no secret of its depth, proclaiming a narrative wherein the central character travels through the travails of mental illness and battles its stubborn belligerence. The story doesn’t necessarily end happily, with lyrics inspired by both the writing and the lives of Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath. You can be assured, or more probably disturbed, that water plays a symbolic part. Titles such as Sleeping Pills and Libretto Horror lend you further clues.

Life-affirming, beautiful, heavenly – a monumental album.

And yet Lighthouse is not a dark, airless, gothic wallow. It’s full of bright light and windows of wisdom. Eclectic and energetic, it utilises tastefully blended elements of classical music, folk, jazz, electronica and symphonic rock to reach its goals. Kolyadin’s grand piano was recorded in the Moscow studio where the soundtracks to Tarkovsky and Eisenstein films were made: he lives up to the grandeur of those ghosts. Yet it’s Semkina’s voice, echoing Elizabeth Fraser or the young Annie Haslam, which lifts the music to flight. Despite anguished lines like ‘I am rotten inside and I’m not pure’ (from Chalk And Coal), its purity arrests your attention and then sideswipes you with some less angelic passions.

Individual tracks surge and retreat, from the skittering night funk of Clear Clearer to the two plaintive parts of I Came Before The Water, but this is an album which is best experienced as a whole, its majesty growing with momentum. The voyage out is unnerving, but the tempestuous trip brings enlightenment. Lighthouse is one of this year’s first perfect storms. Drown in its waves.

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has written about music, films, and art for innumerable outlets. His new book The Velvet Underground is out April 4. He has also published books on Lou Reed, Elton John, the Gothic arts, Talk Talk, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson, Abba, Tom Jones and others. Among his interviewees over the years have been David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Bryan Ferry, Al Green, Tom Waits & Lou Reed. Born in North Wales, he lives in London.