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Rodion G.A. - The Lost Tapes

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Artist: Rodion G.A.

Album: The Lost Tapes

Label: Strut

Review date: Aug. 8, 2013

Who can argue with the strategy of mining the tailings of earlier eras when it still turns up gold like this? The Lost Tapes comprises 10 cherry-picked tracks from the archive of Rodion G.A., a little combo from Cluj, Romania, that was led by one Rodion Roșca. Roșca first came to musical consciousness during Romania’s time of relative liberalization analogous to the Prague Spring, before Nicolai Ceausescu decided to impose North Korean-style cult-of-personality groupthink upon Romania; before the hammer came down he amassed a big collection of Yes and Zappa LPs, and took a shine to electronic keyboards, as well as guitar.

But most of Roșca’s recording was done after the heavy curtain descended, when omnipresent censors nipped into restaurants to make sure that the band wasn’t singing the wrong words, in the wrong language, or at the wrong volume. One slip-up meant the end of your career. Despite such circumstances, Roșca and his constantly changing crew gigged reasonably often, and while he only put two tracks on vinyl throughout his career, he did contribute music to TV shows, newscasts, gymnastics performances (a big deal in the time of Nadia Comăneci), and a science-fiction movie.

When living under heavy manners, sound might get you in less trouble than words; certainly it’s the sonic qualities of Roșca’s work (and despite the band name, he plays everything but drums), which prioritized questing melodies and well-nourished riffs over singing, that make this record jump out 24 years after Roșca quit music to become a laborer and electronics repairman. If you have a weakness for fat synth sounds and sputtering early drum machines committed to reel-to-reel tape, this stuff could set you swooning. On “Salt 83,” for example, the rhythm program and high-pitched lead synth line sound rather like what I imagine a La Düsseldorf demo might sound like. But there’s nothing demo-like about the performance, whose lock-step pep and sports-anthem-worthy theme are what got me thinking of La Düsseldorf in the first place. Roșca sings on occasion, mainly in Romanian, although there is a not-terribly-disco like track called “Disco Mania” in which the title gets chanted repeatedly amidst sped-up nonsense syllables and the Gary Glitter-like swagger of Roșca’s electric bass and Gicu Făracaș’s big, booming drums. Everything, even his voice, gets coated with sizzling effects; electricity encrusts this music like batter on southern-fried chicken.

Strut has a knack for doing this kind of release right, and there’s not much to assail about this collection. The CD booklet includes plenty of vintage photos of long-haired Romanians posing or lugging speaker cabinets the size of iceboxes, and Andy Thomas’s notes tell Rodion G.A.’s story so completely, one might get a bit frustrated; he refers several times to tracks not included on the compilation, which lasts just 40 minutes. But if the worst you can say is that it leaves you wanting more, that’s pretty swell, right? Right.

By Bill Meyer

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