Review: Vakula - You've Never Been To Konotop


Sometimes, little treasures come in small packages. And at times, from the strangest of places. It's been no secret that Eastern Europe has yielded a vast array of musical talent over the years. Many that never even make the 'mainstream' whispers of even the underground or experimental journalistic cosa nostra, that we all know so well, pride themselves in their revelatory discovery of fresh artists, scenes and sounds. Thankfully, this little treasure has been on their radar for a while now; since 2008, after the release of his EP 'Night In Konotop City' on the British Deep House label Quintessentials. 

Mikhaylo Vityk's  association with Edinburg-based label Firecracker can be traced back to late 2010 actually with his Firecracker EP #5, released on ten-inch vinyl with tracks like 'Black and White', 'Skit', 'You Can Do' and 'Different Tone'. His body of work since, has included singles and EP's on labels like Archipel (the 'Slavic Mythology' EP in 2011), Shevchenko (which released the singles 'Dub As Always', You Cannot Resist' and  'Mama Said Go Slow', also in 2011), Downbeat Black label,  Soundofspeed, Unthank and 3rd Strike Records, just to name a few. He’s also put out a number of full-lengths under assumed names. Last year’s The 13th District arrived under the Vakula alias, and he also found time for an eponymous LP as Vedomir.

With his first long player for Firecracker, under the guise of Vakula; a patriotically heroic character from a Nikolay Vasilievich Gogol book 'Night Before Christmas' (a Russian and Ukrainian classic), Mikhaylo pays a loving musical tribute to his hometown of Konotop. For those who never been there, and that includes myself, Konotop is a city in northern Ukraine located around some 129 km from Suny, the Oblast capital. And to over-zealous double-O-seven buffs, the place that the first Ukrainian Cossacks made their base in the beginning of the 17th century. 
Anyway onto the album itself. It features twelve unreleased tracks recorded over the last four years, and will be Vityk’s first album under his most famous nom de plume.

Not known to many, Eastern Europe itself has always had a thriving little Jazz scene, something I realized when I picked up a Jazzanova compilation called Romanian Jazz in 2007. And, it's obvious that with Vityk's work on this album, its influence, along with his love for Ukrainian folk melodies, is significant. Coupled with his love for classic Ukrainian literature and movies and his love for nature as well ("My best friends in Konotop are trees, fields, rivers"), as Vakula,  Mikhaylo Vityk has crafted a gem of an album.

From the opening Skit sound of a key in the door and the opening and closing of it, in general, someone coming home, 'Jazz Mutants' starts the album out proper with it's strange cosmic, and hypnotic reverberated bass-driven groove. 'New Romantic' takes the listener into more familiar Vakula territory, keeping much of that sweet cosmic flow about it, punctuated delightfully by swirling, arpeggiated and jazzy synths that eventually break into melodic bliss towards the end. 'We Have Soul' continues pretty much in the same vein before the percussive deepness of the album dub of the previously released, 'Mama Said Go Slow' simmers things out a little for the mellower delights of 'Sleepy Vision' and the cosmic ambience of 'Hope Soon To Be There' to come through and soothe the senses, before barking dogs (yes, you heard me right) take the 'stage' in Skit #2.

'In My Head' is a haunting little slow burner that again breaks into a swirling, almost, beatless, sequence of racy synths and warm pads that fade and descend into a an almost suspenseful, somewhat sinister sounding bassline before 'Was' takes the groove further into deep cosmic territory.

Skit #3 almost sounds like Mikhaylo's had a Jamaican friend over for tea. And what follows, is the lusciously deep 'For Juju & Jordash',  seemingly produced in homage to Amsterdam-based duo Juju & Jordash.  It is stellar broken, almost ping-ponged crazed drum programming that eventually breaks down into a 4/4 thump a little after the halfway point and breaks down even further into that haunting cosmic beatless lush rush of swirling warm synth-work. 

'Exp Techno' unleashes a groove that would make even the great Kenny Dixon Jr or Larry Heard weep in audacious joy in its almost cinematic ode to the genre, one word here...LUSH ! Before he hits you with his final Skit, Vityk drops another tribute, and another hypnotic stunner it is.  This tribute, this time is probably the most important one on the album, a tribute to his own home town of Konotop.

"I get inspiration walking in my hometown, it fills me"

The album ends on an upbeat note with 'Still Time'. And just as it began its magical mystery tour through the city of Konotop, it finishes; deep lush, and cosmic.  It's clear that on this album, Vityk pushes it as far as possible, combining elements of Jazz, Ukrainian folk melodies, esoteric cryptic rhythm patterns, field recordings, interludes and overgrown organic effects hidden beneath acres of cosmic murk. It's a sound that's all his own, no question here, and one that's significantly different, replicating an analogue sound from the golden age of house and techno. 

Another interesting treasure to note on is the album artwork by House Of Traps.  Hand-pulled silk screen artwork and all there in a triple-pack pressed on 180G 12" Vinyl, packaged lovingly in a double gate fold sleeve.  It's obvious that they've put an enormous amount of care and love into this package. Add this not just to your shopping cart if you can, but to your quest for life, art and spiritual development.

A1. Jazz Mutants
A2. New Romantic
B1. We Have Soul
B2. Mama Said Go Slow (Album Dub)
C1. Sleepy Vision
C2. Hope Soon To Be There
D1. In My Head
D2. Was
E1. Exp Techno
E2. For Juju & Jordash
F1. You've Never Been To Konotop
F2. Still Time (Album Dub)