The Russian artist crafts orchestral synth-pop brimming with whimsy and good taste.
In the video for "Marafon 15," a highlight of Kate NV's (Kate Shilonosova) new album, Room For The Moon, the Moscow-based artist stalks a stage lit with the gauzy quality described above. Wearing a gnome hat, Shilonosova eventually encounters a black-clad stagehand holding a cardboard cut out of the moon. The song takes its name from the '90s Russian television show марафон. A primary influence on Room From The Moon are the TV shows and movies Shilonosova's mother showed her as a child.
"All these TV shows and movies gave me a feeling of celebration and something magical that you actually can relate to," Shilonosova recently told Flaunt. "Back then everything looked so crazy and goofy—all this fake decorations, no CGI (or early attempts looked very amateur), most of the stuff was made by hand, that's why even magical things looked very relatable, I really loved it." I've spent a lot of time with Room For The Moon, a strange, deeply impressive pop album, and the overall mood reminds me of the mix of ennui and boundless imagination that define childhood, images flitting across the screen, a colourful window to a world that doesn't exist.
Room For The Moon's mood is elusive, but its music is vivid. A massive shout-out must be given to Shilonosova's band—Jenya Gorbunov on bass guitar, Vladimir Luchanskiy on saxophone and Quinn Oulton on both instruments—who, alongside Kate NV, whip up an accomplished pastiche drawing on '80s records that went mostly under-appreciated during their time, such as the Ann Steel album (1979 but futuristic as fuck), Jeanette's Leo, dip in the pool's Retinae, Yasuaki Shimizu's Kakashi, Jane Siberry's No Borders Here and the vast territory of Soviet synth-pop.
The vocals are the perfect counterpart to this cosmopolitan mix of influences. Shilonosova switches to French on the herky-jerky, post-punk pop song "Ça Commence Par," while Nami Sato provides a Japanese spoken-word for "Lu Na." On the dreamy instrumental "Tea (Full Cup Version)," Shilonosova does away with lyrics altogether, the wordless synth-pop tune reminiscent of Pino Donaggio's brilliant theme for Brian De Palma's 1984 film Body Double. Shilonosova's voice is mostly used as another instrument rather than the carrier of any clear message. "I want the listener to imagine their own situation, their own mood, to perceive their own reality," she told The Calvert Journal. "The words are an additional, abstract layer, but the music dictates the rules."
If there's any gripe with Room For The Moon, it's that this perfect pastiche of influences, lack of substantial lyrics ("Plans" being the major exception) and general tendency towards dreaminess make it an ephemeral work by nature. That's what makes the closer, "Telefon," feel like a revelation. The tune builds up just like the others, an adroit rhythm section accompanied by a tasteful melange of synths, vibes and sax while Shilonosova sings the verse. Then, about two-and-a-half minutes in, an absolutely massive chorus hits, full of paradoxical happiness and longing. Kate NV's surrealist, imagined television show finally has its theme.