Ventsmagazine (USA) reviews Breaking The Ice LP | Press | Privet Earth
Ventsmagazine (USA) reviews Breaking The Ice LP

23 January, 2015 at 18:49

The story behind Privet Earth embodies what rock and roll should be about. The band’s creative force, Ivan Smirnov, began playing and writing his own compositions at eight years old. Influenced by American/English rock, Smirnov’s childhood also saw him receive a firm grounding in classical music. The guitar’s six-string allure, however, continued calling to him until, at age 19, Ivan had finished his first album. The independent, self-produced project featured his songwriting’s unique mix of classical and rock music that he refers to as “Blitz-Rock”. Embracing his passion, Smirnov found his way to Los Angeles and named his newly formed band after himself. The band recorded their full-length debut, Privet Earth, in late 2009 and garnered two 2011 Grammy nomination for, respectively, Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance. The band changed its name to Privet Earth in early 2013 and began recording this album, Breaking The Ice, in early 2013.

You won’t hear an album like this all year. Maybe longer. The strings and pure pop stylings colliding in the opener, “Ice Orkestra”, are enough to dispel any initial doubts about the band’s potential. It’s understandable, in 2015, that eyebrows arch when anyone, much less a relatively unproven musician and writer, claims they are introducing something truly new. Hearing this fusion of classical and pop elements never produces an expected style clash or finds one mode in the ascendant over the other. Instead, the elements seem to work in counterpoint with each other and the resulting tension deepens the melodic layers as well.

“Forest Queen” is sprightly and once again distinguished by a supremely confident, sparkling pop vocal. Even the most jaded listener, if they possess any objectivity, will be hard pressed to find fault with how Privet Earth impressively straddles the approachability of great pop music with compositional sophistication. In this sense, a clear antecedent for Privet Earth’s ambition is Brian Wilson’s seminal work with The Beach Boys. The songs depict a version of reality, not entirely faithful to our daily perceptions, but ringing with truth of a different sort and the musical intelligence guiding things never falters.

The funky “Dive” bristles with energy and genuine soul. The production deserves mention here because this, like the remainder of the album, is a strong example of how attentiveness can strengthen an artist’s sonic presentation. Every nuance of this performance has astonishing, intimate clarity. Smirnov’s vocals have surprising grit and inviting warmth. The inventive guitar and percussion keeps things percolating at a steady boil. “Bluebottle” is another outstanding example of the album’s songwriting and seamlessly fuses a hard-charging punk aesthetic to Privet Earth’s glaring pop sensibilities. The guitar has a barbed edge here, but it never overplays its hand and drops vivid fills throughout the song.

“Feeling” proves that Privet Earth is a musical magpie, able to shift between genres while retaining the core thrust of their approach. What begins as a piano-driven, almost retro flavored number evolves into a dissonant quasi-rock anthem with a bright pop sheen. My description likely does it disservice. Privet Earth specializes in producing a number of head-spinning reactions from first time listeners, but there’s no worry that such a fresh approach doesn’t have staying power.

“Embryo” surges with urgency from the outset. Smirnov’s voice inhabits this song with throat-shredding passion that fearlessly explores his upper register and the classical elements give the song pleasing melodic depth. The keyboard textures give the song a stylish, sleek flavor. Style is an important component in this album’s success, but it’s never an empty vessel. Instead, consider it an exclamation point on the considerable substance packed within this collection. Privet Earth has written and recorded a great album that holds up under repeated hearing and points the way to an even brighter future.

Jason Hillenberg

10/10 Stars