Releases like last year’s Mæta, 2016’s ШАΛАШ collaborations Seven Sleepers with You C and Around with Bisamråtta, and 2015’s Diafilms have cemented Egor Klochikhin’s solo project Foresteppe as a remarkably consistent source of gorgeous folk-ambient with the woozy warbles of tape music and plenty of textural environmental recordings. When I saw that a new release from Klochikhin I immediately bookmarked it without reading the detailed abstract, excited to hear what I imagined would be an expansion on the approach he so masterfully utilized to produce Mæta. Had I taken the time to pore over the introduction, however, it would have been made clear that Karaul is a very different work from anything the artist has released before (apart from maybe Kosichkin Tapes, a collage he made using tape recordings made by his family throughout his childhood).
According to the summary, “the word ‘karaul’ designates both a kind of pompous sentry, mundane army guarding duty, and bitterly humorous call for help in horrific cases along,” a definition that closely aligns with the new tape’s central themes. Karaul is shaky and uncertain, but in a much less comforting manner than past works; this is clear from the very beginning of “Boundary,” the first track, when an abrupt and startling tape reel rewind signals that what lies ahead may be no picnic. “Almaz // Radian” delivers on this promise, adding some quiet but searing noise textures to the carefully constructed collages, as well as allowing a muffled martial drum sample to cut through. The ranges of not only sounds but also emotions and atmospheres that Klochikhin flits between on Karaul are staggering: just take “3Z,” the longest piece on the album and arguably its centerpiece, which slowly but purposefully evolves from buzzing electric drones through a sublime, hypnotic keyboard loop and finally a disarming stretch of fragmented beat music which culminates in field recordings of a jackhammer and a beeping printer or copier—and somehow never feels disjointed or overstuffed. In fact, it’s just the opposite; everything on Karaul, despite its ceaseless eclecticism, is impossibly cohesive and well-paced; it makes its hour-plus run time feel like half that. Klochikhin is by no means abandoning his roots here, either. The way in which the compositions drift and flow within and between each other is recognizably Foresteppe-esque, and the title track wouldn’t even be out of place on many of the releases I mentioned at the beginning of this review. Karaul is one of the most immediately impressive and enthralling albums I’ve heard in 2019, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it gain traction with a much wider audience than ever before.