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Laika and the Cosmonauts

Cosmopolis

(Yep Roc; US: 16 Sep 2008)

Laika and the Cosmonauts will disband in November 2008. Their parting gesture will be a brief U.S. tour and two September releases. Cosmopolis is a 27-track compilation taken from their last 20 years: a perfect soundtrack to a non-existent movie featuring them doing science experiments, meeting monsters, getting girls, and skimming chilly Scandinavian waters on surfboards made from Dick Dale’s recycled plectrums. The title of Cosmopolis is likely connected to the Russian-made space vehicle rather than Don DeLillo’s book of the same name. Buyers can also download The Metropolis Tapes, a live album made for a recent Helsinki showing of Fritz Lang’s silent movie classic. 


Using some variations in pace (they sometimes take a well earned breather) and style (exotic music in keeping with the roots of their sound) Laika and the Cosmonauts mainly produce precise, taut, spacious, retro-futurist instrumentals. Fuzz me baby! Move over Rover and let this tremolo arm take over! Some say they are the best surf guitar band ever. All I know is that, as with Joe Meek and all guitar instrumental combos from the Shadows and the Ventures through to Man or Astroman and beyond, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend listening to a whole album straight through. That way probably lies madness, twangtastic madness, but madness all the same.


Cosmopolis features some tracks that are previously unreleased in the USA and a couple of unheard ones, too. Recent favorites such as “Rikki on the Loose” and “NY ‘79” sound great, “Get Carter” references arguably the best British gangster film ever made, and “Global Village” has an organ that Meek himself might have found, ahem, irresistible. The late DJ John Peel was a fan of the group and it’s not hard to hear why; they are fun, punchy, with bags of unpretentious charm and live shows that are the stuff of legend.


As some readers will know, Laika and the Cosmonauts are named for a mongrel that was plucked from the streets of Moscow and launched into space on a pre-Gagarin test flight. For decades, the world was told that the “muttnik” (as the U.S. press dubbed her) survived to enjoy important anniversaries of her glorious motherland. The truth is that Laika died only hours after take-off, probably due to overheating or her heart giving out. After 2,570 orbits, she was cremated upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. One of the scientists, Oleg Grazenko, has commented “we shouldn’t have done it, we learned nothing to make the sacrifice worthwhile”. Doubtless, one day similar regrets will be expressed about American Idol. At least Laika has inspired several books, songs, and a graphic novel.


With a legacy of bristling panache, cool riffs, and awe-inspiring shirts, Laika and the Cosmonauts can send your imagination into orbit for a while. If you choose to drop a fortune to take off from a commercial spaceport, well, as the song says “Surf’s You Right”….

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