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Various Artists

Vladivostok FM - Music from Grand Theft Auto IV

Review by Rick Damigella

Now before you panic, no, Music Street Journal is not suddenly shifting focus to review video games. However comrade, the unique sounds of Russian and Eastern European popular music found on one of the in-game “radio stations” in GTAIV is definitely worth a listen. If you have a taste for the exotic, an adventuresome ear or can understand Russian, then its time you took Vladivostok FM for a spin. 

If you’ve never played Grand Theft Auto, let alone picked up a video game controller, fear not. Here is the quickest primer you will find on the subject. Forget what salacious stories or rantings of rhetoric spouting members of the anti-game movement you may have heard and know that Grand Theft Auto IV is, very simply put, a highly advanced, open-world game set in a fictional version of New York. The plot line follows an Eastern European immigrant named Niko Bellic and his adventures/crime spree/mission of revenge. To bring the virtual city to life (and since you spend a lot of time driving in the game), the creators have populated the airwaves of Liberty City with a number of radio stations you can listen to as you play. The most unique of these is Vladivostok FM.

Billed as “music from the home land” the station plays a unique mix of Russian and Eastern European music, ranging from hardcore rap to pop-folk. Prior to playing this game and getting swept up by the songs on this station, my knowledge of Russian pop music was limited to Russia’s hair metallers Gorky Park and fake-lesbian techno pop duo t.A.T.u. While this may be the rage on the other side of the planet, it is very eye opening and refreshing to hear music that is all at once familiar and alien sounding, but most definitely free of the constraints of the Western record industry. Best of all, you don’t have to jack a car in Liberty City to rock out with Vladivostok. Just hit up iTunes or Amazon to download it. You may not understand a word of what is being sung, but as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said, “Music is the universal language of mankind.”

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Liberty City: The Invasion by Seryoga
This original composition by top Russian rapper Seryoga is a hard edged gangsta rap number. East Coast hip-hop elements are definitely there under the surface, along with properly Western F-bombs. The addition of palm muted guitar and Russian Folk sounds add to the unique East meets West mix.
RAP by Dolphin
The influence of Western hip-hop culture is even more apparent in this next number. The beats are tight and the rhymes are solid. Indeed, the Russian language seems uniquely suited to rapid fire rap delivery as is proven on this song.
Mama by Basta
A mellow mood, led by acoustic guitar over sultry hip-hop beats propels this number. It has the feeling of either a love song or a musical letter home from a long lost son to his mother. Either way, there is undeniable emotion in both the music and the lyrics.
Nikogo ne Zhalko by Leningrad
This is a mid paced number by Russian ska/punks with a reputation for their vulgar lyrics. The languid lines of the bass and drums set up the accordion which leads the instrumentation. Yes, I said that, and no, it is not as horrible as you might think. Slam some English lyrics on this and you have a hit that Sublime could have done 15 years ago.
Gruppa krovi by Gruppa Kino
Yes, yes. The song title and band are almost identical. So what? This more upbeat number shows the influence 80’s new wave had on Russian bands. The singer sounds like Richard Butler of the Psychedelic Furs. The bassist not only grooves tightly but must have had a buddy on the knobs because the four-stringer gets prominent mix in the song usually reserved for flashier instruments.
King Ring by Seryoga
The Russian Rhymer is back with another guitar driven rap that, while it was written for the movie “Shadowboxing,” it wouldn’t feel out of place in a James Bond movie title sequence with this guitar, horns and female backing chorus done in the key of spy movies.
Jdat by Marakesh
The hip-hop gives way to straight up rock. It's based on hree chords, palm mutes, a female singer who belts out the lyrics over the churning guitar and wait… what is that? Is that a guitar solo to bring the number to a close! OK, it isn’t the same as beating us to space with Sputnik, but come on all you bubbling under bands out there. Don’t be afraid to embrace your pentatonic scales since these guys know their way around a fretboard.
O tebe by Ranetki
Mother Russia’s answer to the all-girl pop band. Theramin style notes color the chorus while the singer pleads with her lover gone away (OK, I have no idea if that’s the case, but it feels like it). Whatever the song’s meaning, it’s got a great guitar riff throughout and is yet another tune with a great guitar solo outro.
Oda Lyubvi by T9
I guess at this point I should point out I am not the hip-hop aficionado that many are. I will say that the more I hear the Russian language rapping over dreamy piano and expert beats, the more I like it.
Shoju s uma by Max Lorens
The poppier side of hip-hop comes through, with a more subdued and sensual back beat and 90’s style lover-man to his lady style singing/rapping. If this were in English, it would rank high on the pop charts and would likely cause a good amount of vertical grinding on dance floors.
Zelenoglazoe Taksi by Oleg Kvasha
Grab your glowsticks, its Russian Rave time. Mixing Trance and House elements, there is really no reason why Western DJ’s couldn’t spin this into their sets right this minute. The ethereal chorus is right out of New Order’s playbook.
Schweine by Glukoza
My second favorite song on the album, Russian pop princess Glukoza belts out this military march based number which has an irresistibly sing-along style chorus chanting “one, two, three” (in German) and then something about a pig. Its really hard to get out of your head once you let it in - but in a good way.
Mama by Quest Pistols
The song and the band’s name wouldn’t be out of place in an 80’s New Wave club. As the second song on the set named “Mama” no one can accuse Russian bands of not respecting their matriarchal elders.
Wild Dances by Ruslana
So if you have read this far then you must have more than a passing interest in this set of music. If you are still unconvinced, then trust me when I say if you download one song from this set, make it this one. An explosion of Gypsy folk synths intros the number followed quickly by high energy tribal drums, which are soon joined by the most infections sing-along ever where you don’t know what you are singing. This was Ukraine’s entry into the Eurovision Song Contest in 2004, which won the top honors for the nation and its egregiously hot femme fatale singer Ruslana (who also hosts Vladivostok FM in the game as its DJ).
Vzglyani Na Nebo by Dyshi
We get more hip-hop influenced pop, this time with both male and female vocalists and a great piano riff throughout. If I had to guess, I'd say  it must be a love song. This is perfect for slow dancing in a Moscow night club.
Liberty City: The Invasion (instrumental version) by Seryoga
This is the same as the lead off number sans vocals, which is cool because you can really hear each instrument as it rides the hard drum riff.
 
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