On the surface, Prague’s dark ambient duo Lavra may seem like the black sheep of the PUSHTEEK catalog. Their pairing of digital soundscapes and haunting songcraft seems more in line with the output of Editions Mego or 4AD than with a progressive hardcore label. Yet if you take the DIY principle of using whatever tools are at your disposal to make music, add the desperation and urgency that fuels so much underground music, and factor in the predilections towards caustic and unsettling timbres and textures, then the Lavra / PUSHTEEK relationship makes perfect sense.
On their sophomore album Usual Blaze, multi-instrumentalist Tomáš Vondra creates disquieting digital soundscapes from various synths, MPCs, and guitars to serve as the bedrock for vocalist Barbora Zelníčková’s sorrowful melodies. Described by members of their music community as “a soundtrack for Aleister Crowley’s curriculum vitae,” Lavra’s music embraces the vast tonal opportunities of modern electronic music while maintaining a melodic thread to dark, meditative, and ritualistic song forms. The album opens with the stuttering, deconstructed drum patterns and pensive synth melodies of “Unthrone,” with Zelníčková’s hypnotic vocals solidifying the song into a futuristic industrial ballad. “As If” operates under similar principles—marrying the cold visions of heady electronic music to the beating heart of Zelníčková’s voice. Across the remaining span of Usual Blaze’s side A, Vondra employs attributes of his other musical projects—the electronic alternative pop of Orient and the expansive sonic tapestry of post-rock outfit Tomáš Palucha—into an amalgam of ASMR-worthy textures and brooding modern composition. But on side B, Lavra’s connection to the more primitive and volatile realms of the PUSHTEEK catalog become more apparent. The twenty-minute opus “The Hanged Woman” is a composite of brutish industrial battery, throat-shredding vocals, sound collage, and power electronics fused with Lavra’s standard musical operating procedures.
Usual Blaze is a journey into the sonic possibilities afforded by coming untethered from rock’s analog boundaries, yet it eschews the sterile and synthetic trappings of so much modern electronic music. Lavra’s fusion of the vulnerable human spirit with metronomic pulses and unadulterated oscillations heightens both elements, adding a new dimension of intimacy to Zelníčková’s musical narratives and an even more foreboding and dystopian aura to Vondra’s constructions. Throw it on and immerse yourself in Lavra’s claustrophobic world.
02. As If
03. Behind the Garden
05. I Only
06. The Hanged Woman