Ploho - Фантомные Чувства (Phantom Feelings) Album Review

Feb. 9, 2021


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Russian post punk and synth pop have had a significant underground presence for quite some time but finding these bands and their material outside of their home country has been difficult until recently.  With more and more signing to labels that give them some widespread distribution, there’s now a wealth of material for fans of the genres to discover.  One of my newer finds is Ploho, a trio from Siberia who has put out close to an album a year since 2015.  Like their Belarussian friends Molchat Doma who have gained a prominent North American audience thanks to recent releases, Ploho’s latest album Фантомные Чувства (Phantom Feelings) leans heavily on 80s influences from some familiar artists but has plenty of substance and waves of entrancing atmosphere to draw listeners in.

Perhaps in part due to their geography, the post punk from Russia and the former Soviet countries has often had a colder tone and basked in gloom and dreariness, and while what I’ve heard on some of Ploho’s previous albums has reflected this Phantom Feelings seems to pull them in a slightly brighter and quirkier direction.  The heavy influence of British post punk and synthpop as well as Russian artists from the USSR time period are still felt throughout this material, but the trio is able to put their own spin on it and pay tribute to the past while still feeling relevant in today’s strange world.  “Between Us” makes for a strong opening with a driving beat, prominent bass-line, and airier synths and guitar leads that seem to dance around the recording in a way that is sure to immediately draw fans of the genre in.  Faster tempos are a prominent focus for much of the album, with the majority having a sense of urgency and drive that remind me of some of Soft Kill’s mid-period releases.  Songs like “Прости (Forgive Me)” leave a lasting impression with their soaring atmospherics that have a brighter, yet still somewhat cold tint and the fullness of the arrangements feels different than some of the band’s prior work.  Admittedly the consistent tempo and similar beats do lead to a few of the later pieces blurring together a bit, but given the brevity of the thirty-four minute run time this doesn’t become that big of an issue and Ploho provides plenty of layers of melody to get lost in.

The vocals are likely going to be an element that either adds to the mystique and overall appeal or turn some people away, but if you’ve grown up on a heavy diet of post punk then Victor Uzhakov’s deadpan singing is likely to be a positive.  His singing booms over the recording in ways that add to some of the greyer hues, bringing a feeling of sorrow and reflection from each song to the next.  As you might expect, for those of us in North America the lyrics are likely to be impenetrable but the emotions that come to mind as one listens to Ploho is what continued to draw me back.  Despite the deadpan nature that’s not to say that Uzhakov doesn’t deviate his pitch at all, as their subtle shifts over the course of the album that keeps things from becoming too repetitive. 

Despite the quick pace between releases, Ploho continues to evolve and pay tribute to their influences while offering more than mere nostalgia.  Their latest comes through with some brighter melodies and more playful moments in between the drearier, wistful ones, and even though they do fall into a pattern by the end there are plenty of stunning moments one can get lost in.  In some ways their current trajectory reminds me of Soft Kill’s, who branched out further and really evolved their songwriting after several successful albums that utilized familiar elements, and if Ploho pulls off a similar transformation I think they’ll only keep getting better from here.  Фантомные Чувства (Phantom Feelings) is available from Artoffact Records.

-Review by Chris Dahlberg

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