The music of Misha Sultan resists easy contextualization. The composer and sound engineer grew up smack-dab in the heart of Siberia, where he and his brothers began making music as kids. Yet Misha’s sound-world does not conjure up the desolate winter hellscape that so many Westerners picture when they think of Siberia (and indeed, the real Siberia is far more diverse than that). His music is rich and teeming with life, full of bubbling synths, gorgeous reed passages, and many all-natural field recordings.
Misha’s latest album, Roots, is a collection of songs recorded between 2015 and 2022. It arrives during a rather dark time in the artist’s life—while making it, Russia invaded Ukraine, and Misha was forced to flee his home country. Now is as good a time as ever to dig deep into the multi-instrumentalist’s sonic universe. Against a backdrop of tragedy and exile, Roots showcases all the things that Misha does well.
The most striking thing about the new album is its bright, daydreamy tone. Despite the dark political overtones surrounding the release, it’s a little lighter and more playful than The Red Fern Road, Misha’s last LP. Both albums highlight his unique Eurasian sound, but this one has a little more pep in its step. It’s a perfect album with which to usher in the summertime.
Things get off to a breezy start on “Ants Invasion”, with its washy pads, tingling synth lead, and field recordings of birdsong. The track builds and then morphs into a post-rock-like behemoth of punchy kick drums and reverb-soaked guitars, clocking in at over nine minutes. There are even some hints of kosmische here and there. All the wah-wah-ing guitars and delay effects recall Manuel Gottsching’s Inventions For Electric Guitar, another album that wasn’t afraid to pull unusual sounds out of a guitar.
One of the best parts of Roots is how genuinely unpredictable it is. “Slow Flow” begins like you think it would: an unassuming slow burn of rickety percussion and creeping bass, but it gets brighter and bolder as it goes on, leading to one of the LP’s cheeriest synth melodies. Then there’s “Kwango”, which opens with Misha’s characteristic ambience and then forays into some obscenely heavy guitar overdubs. The album always retains its bright, shimmering tone, but there are so many stylistic twists and turns throughout.
It’s almost impossible to pick a highlight, but if there has to be one, it’s probably “Sand Ashram”. This one features a hip-hop-style beat and an utterly gorgeous synth melody that gets more and more pronounced as it goes on. Just when you think the track can’t get any more beautiful, a flute swoops in and takes the whole thing to the stratosphere. It’s absolutely heavenly.
Roots, as a whole, certainly showcases Misha Sultan’s roots—yet those roots are not confined to one time or place. Geographically Misha’s roots may be in Siberia, but sonically they’re everywhere. Ambient, dub techno, krautrock, chill-out—he does it all. His latest offering via Hive Mind Records is a triumph in contemporary electronic music. The LP may have arrived during a trying time in the artist’s life (and for the world in general), but it’s a reminder that great art is still in no short supply during such times.