Songs for before and after the apocalypse

Ukryte Zalety Systemu and Trupa Trupa comment on the pre- and post-apocalypse reality. They reach for psychedelic rock and post-punk, but what really makes them stand out are their pertinent punchlines, delivered in a truly inimitable fashion.

Translation: Aleksandra Szkudłapska

If one were to browse Polish songs for an apt commentary on current developments, the results would be rather meagre. The dominant vibe is either effusive pop or introverted, personal narratives, as if there really wasn’t a lot going on in the broader world. Whether the song form itself – so deeply rooted in popular entertainment – is even fit to address the social and political situation is another matter. But then again: why not? There are so many amazing examples, in Poland and abroad, even though reviewers tend to focus on music rather than words; text is rarely their main focus. Or perhaps it just isn’t highlighted enough?

New albums by Ukryte Zalety Systemu and Trupa Trupa contain distinctive, evocative narratives about today’s world. Music-wise, the origin of both groups can be traced back to the rock idiom, although they’re standing at a crossroads: with one heading for oneiric psychedelia and the other for raw punk energy. Yet both Of the Sun and Sposób użycia are permeated by the same feeling of anxiety: something has either happened or is about to happen, making it hard to collect your thoughts.

Trupa Trupa talk about a world recoiling from a disaster. While “Mangle” could still be seen as a Dadaist call for a revolution (we’re gonna have / the art of mist / with appreciated individuals / historical proofs / media machine / official support / valuable timber / handmade bricks), Of the Sun as a whole is as lyrical as it is funerary and devoid of any hope. That’s poignantly signalled already in the opening “Dream About” – while the title may suggest reverie, the lyrics sung by Grzegorz Kwiatkowski are flat-out grim: no one / no way / no one / nowhere. The thought about another reality, the dream to break away from the apathy returns in “Waiting for Another”. We’re faced with a world recovering from a war, from another Holocaust. The void left after a loss echoes with all the shapes of nothingness (nowhere man / nowhere land / nowhere to go / no one left / no one left / no one to talk). War and doom are recurrent topics in Trupa Trupa’s music, but they’re not delivered in a clear-cut or clichéd fashion. The Gdańsk-based four-piece build up their lyrics into songs that are part post-rock, part psychedelia. Simple drum beats meet fleshy bass and washed-out guitars, all of which convey a recurrent feeling of anxiety. In “Waiting for Another”, my favourite track on the record, Rafał Wojczal’s hand-made guitar spins a tale of sadness and sorrow, a cracked, grim, nihilist vision, which – at this point – is still impossible to overcome. We’re left with a mantra-like search for hope, an incantation addressed to reality (verbal repetitions are the quartet’s trademark, after all). “Longing” urges us to [sing] very hard the song of nowhere – a song to be repeated, again and again, because there’s nothing else you can do at this particular moment. The tracks melt and dissolve, their mighty sound (Michał Kupicz again proved his mark here) evoking a world on the brink of disintegration. We have to face it and piece it together again. Even though this may be difficult to come to terms with, because satellite falling / don’t want to feel that it’s over. While this is the most song-like record Trupa Trupa have released so far, it is also filled with sorrow, craftily hidden under the seemingly sunny title.

Ukryte Zalety Systemu are not as devoid of hope (yet), although they observe current developments with apprehension, heralding apocalypse. The list in the title track seems as ironic – the spoon will no longer feed / the hammer will act against the fist / street windows will smash themselves up  – as it is frightening: letters will no longer reach you / and electricity, with its newly-gained awareness, will flow the other way. A welcome change? We should all listen to this album in the run-up to elections. Ukryte Zalety Systemu use crafty, inventive metaphors to describe reality – the one that’s being manipulated and the one awaiting revolution. This is our common cause / we all have to be here in “Dzień przyjaźni pozaziemskiej” (Extra-terrestrial Friendship Day) is shouted like a slogan at a demonstration, and one is again left wondering to what extent this is exaggerated, and to what extent it is meant as an honest expression of concern for the society (let’s start a rainbow / only a rainbow sparks controversy is another brilliant fragment). UZS offer an uncanny description of the world around them. These urban narratives could act as a background for a new counter-cultural movement – free from pathos or clichés, these verbal labyrinths offer genuine depth to those willing to explore them. Wordplay and dramatized narratives (“TV Trwaj”) unfold against the backdrop of evocative bass and fitful drumming. There is also room here for synth passages and narrative experiments with dramatic tension. The band’s sound and the rhythm of the tracks are diverse, with individual pieces seemingly arranged to match the lyrics. Or perhaps the words just fit perfectly, because they tell actual stories instead of acting as a filler for melodies. Even taken out of context, as individual sentences, they are still amazingly poignant. Sposób użycia may be seen as a recipe, a manifesto, an announcement, maybe even a warning signal – like the alarm-like sound in the first seconds of the record. The catastrophe is coming and it’ll be upon us if we don’t act now. If we hesitate too long, all efforts might prove futile.

Both these albums are released at a very interesting moment in time. We’ve just celebrated the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II – a disaster that ravaged half of Europe. This condition is presented by Trupa Trupa, who talk about life in the shadow, under the guise of an idyllic landscape. In the meantime, extremist right-wing movements are on the rise, and the polls do not suggest any imminent change in that respect, at least not in the country on the Vistula. Soon, we might all be left with nothing, but it is our common cause. These two perspectives: the experience of tragedy and doom, and the anticipation and fear of another catastrophe – states of uncertainty – come together in the music of both groups. What we’re left with is one poignant question: are we finally going to learn our lesson or will this vicious circle never end?

Trupa Trupa, Of the Sun, Glitterbeat Records/Lovitt/
Moorworks/Antena Krzyku
Ukryte Zalety Systemu, Sposób użycia, Antena Krzyku