Swinging St. Pete Disco

Pep-See "Tri Zvezdy Na Nebie" (Pride)

Russian pop-and-dance music is famous for being dull and vulgar. Russian rock is famous for being poetic and intellectual but absolutely no fun. But now we've got the debut album from St. Petersburg's Pep-see, a striking exception to both of these rules. An all-female vocal trio backed by a swinging rock band with a wonderful '60s-style organ sound, they're more entertaining and danceable than any local tacky pop show -- yet smart and positively energetic in the "rock" sense. Although they like to call their style "extreme disco," in reality it's much closer to the punkish kitsch pop of the B-52s and Blondie, as well as modern pop-art revivalists such as Stereolab or Dubstar. Since the stunning debut of Bravo (with explosive Zhanna Aguzarova on vocals) back in 1984, I can't recall a Russian band so strongly charged with swinging fun. They're also worth seeing live, being frequent performers in various Moscow night clubs and discos. The only thing I don't like about the band is their awkward name. I hope they'll change it -- unless Pepsico agrees to sponsor them generously.

Archive "Londinium" (Island)

Another impressive debut from another trio. This young and classy English group has two vocalists: a dreamy female singer, following the path of Portishead's Beth Gibbons, and a male rapper of a softer ilk. Musically, they embrace the trendy variety of modern "intellectual dance" styles, but giving it a certain new twist -- namely live violin and cello sound that fits perfectly well in the "acid jazz" context. Unlike cult label-mate Tricky, Archive could even do all right in Russian discos -- thanks to the pretty, sometimes schmaltzy, melodies. Check them out.

The Dear Janes "No Skin" (Castle/Geften)

This Britain-based, Anglo-American female duo plays the kind of music that's in between folk and alternative rock. The songs are no-nonsense comments on private and social aspects of everyday life, varying from the passionate to the ironic, and in fact, some of them are very good.

"The Pillow Book -- Original Soundtrack" (La Bande Son)

All music in Peter Greenaway's previous films have been written by modern classical composers, namely Michael Nyman and Wim Mertens. I haven't seen the new movie, but the soundtrack to it is utterly different from what one might expect. It's mostly vocal numbers of a very eclectic nature -- from excerpts of Buddhist rituals to modern Japanese hard rock, from kitschy Cantonese pop tunes to weird French chanson nouveau. I used to be a fan of Greenaway's films but sort of lost interest -- mostly because I found his work repetitive. Now, at least on the musical level, there seems to be a major change, so perhaps I should go see the movie.