I don't often have the opportunity to use a phrase like 'Belarus pop sensation', but with LYAPIS TRUBETSKOY'S 'Agitpop' it seems wholly accurate.
'Agitpop' comes from the great Eastblok Music label,at one time near neighbours of mine in Berlin's borough of Mitte. They've previously delighted my eardrums with amazing albums laden with folk and dance-related jewels from Poland and the Balkans, but this time they proudly unveil an album of air-punching Ska-soused Punk-Pop from a band who regularly cram venues to breaking point in their homeland and neighbouring Russia and could probably do the same here given the breaks.
Great though it is, the 'workers collective'-style image of the mighty hand with the microphone adorning the sleeve throws a bit of a dummy. Without reading the press release, I might well have expected a dark, Laibach-style industrial affair, yet Lyapis represent mass communication married to ridiculously infectious tunes first and foremost. Their PR sound-bite suggests "Karl Marx meets Gogol Bordello", but I can hear Rocket From The Crypt in their enviably fat punched-up horns, Mighty Mighty Bosstones in some of the Ska-heavy grooves and even a hint of Asian Dub Foundation in frontman Sergey Mikhalok's hectoring delivery.
Even the merest exposure to pumped-up and ludicrously catchy tunes like 'Burevestnik' and 'Goyko Mitic' leaves you in no doubt that LT are more than aware of Pop's heritage, although their decision to sing in their mother tongue may derail them in the west. This is a thorny issue at the best of times, but while Lyapis could quite easily be singing about anything from shagging to protest songs about building power stations on reclaimed areas of Steppe for all I know, they quite clearly mean it, maaan, and I would personally applaud them for sticking to their natural, linguistic guns.
Sensibly, an English lyric sheet is provided for two of the album's key tracks, 'Capital' and 'Manifest', although it would be difficult to misunderstand a memorable chorus of "In the left hand Snickers, in the right hand Mars...my PR manager is Karl Marx". In these days of frightening economic and climatic instability, this rousing tale of greed and opportunity ruling the political wasteland seems especially well observed. 'Manifest', meanwhile is even more provocative, with its' images of the lunatics taking over the asylum (which appears to be happening anyway) and social anarchy for all and there's sure as hell no way of denying the song's heavy Pop-Punk forearm smash.
Great though these tunes are, they're by no means the only standouts. 'Zorachki' is finely wrought wide-screen pop. 'Ruzhovyya Akulyary' shows off the band's sunnier, easy skanking side and the magnificent, self-explanatory 'Belarus Freedom' is a leviathan of a Punk anthem with iron in its' soul and defiance in its' stare. Hell, even the extra tracks, including a Classically-inclined piano ballad re-shaping of 'Capital', are well worth the price of admission.
'Agitpop' finds Lyapis Trubetskoy agitating, educating and organising their tough'n'tuneful assault in fine style. I wouldn't bet against them succeeding should they have their eyes on a friendly western invasion in the near future.
Eastblok Music online