The Very Polish Cut-Outs have slowly crept into the limelight over the last couple of years with their own infectious take on slow-mo house and disco. To hear such a refined sound coming out of a country like Poland is new territory for a lot of people, especially given the industrial post-soviet inspired sounds that Germany has become so well known for. However, a quick look at their blog shows us that their ambitions reach far beyond this machine-like approach to house and techno. They preach a message of spreading the talents of their Polish collective all over the world, whilst giving an insight into the history of Polish music through recordings taken from their cultural heritage.
The tagline on their blog: ‘Polish Dance Music? Are You Fucking Braindead?!’ seems like a very tongue in cheek reference to the rock scene that was born in Poland in the late 70’s and early 80’s, striving against the political censorship that deemed much of the music that was being made as ‘too western’. At the very same time in America, disco and house became a huge underground movement and the scene struggled for autonomy, much in the same way that the Poles were searching for acceptance with their blues inspired rock. 30 years on, a marriage between Polish rock and disco is a roundabout turn of events, and one that would have seemed completely unimaginable a few decades ago. However, it is a relationship which works better than anyone could have guessed, and provides an extremely refreshing direction on disco edits at a time when re-workings of old US classics have become rather insipid.
Ptaki thrust the label into infamy with a sublime edit of Krystyna Prońko’s ‘Specjalne Okazje’ that gained some early UK attention from Charlie Bone’s NTS show, before becoming one of the most sought after edits of 2013. Their other chugged out quirk-edits and productions soon came to light, leading swiftly to performances at Rhythm Section and Boiler Room. However, true to their label’s outlook, Ptaki haven’t moved away from Warsaw in search of brighter lights. Despite releasing one EP on the well respected LA based label Young Adults, they have returned to their roots and released their debut LP Przelot on Polish disco and house imprint Transatlantyk.
‘Przelot’ means ‘flight’ in Polish and this album certainly feels like a voyage through the heavens, travelling mostly through sunny skies and fluffy clouds, but with periods of turbulence and stormy emotions that add the textures that make the LP an interesting adventure. ‘Czuła Jest Noc’ sets out what Ptaki are all about, balearic guitar, sparse flute lines and dusty atmospheric pads set the mood as they float about the track, whilst a polished drum beat and simple bass guitar keep the cut moving at a leisurely pace. The duo take a step away from their standard disco balearic formula with ‘Nie Zabijaj’, which is heavily reggae influenced with a plodding bassline and dub echo chords. However the vocal sample and occasional 80’s inspired drum hits and synths marry the balearic stylings and reggae together perfectly.
‘Warsaw’ take’s a trip back to the beach, and also Ptaki’s back catalogue, being the only track to have been previously released on the LP. The sound of waves and gulls morphs into a steady guitar riff and chug beat, building slowly with added synths, strings and bongos. The track really takes off with a carefully constructed guitar pattern and subtle hints of woodwind that hover over the background atmosphere like a haze on a hot summer’s day. Coming off the beach and into club, ‘Ostatni Kurs‘ employs a heavyweight funk bassline that is reminiscent of the Secret Squirrels disco edit series, juxtaposed exquisitely against cosmic dustings of delicate piano. Breaking up the LP with some short interlude pieces, ‘Skit 1’ and ‘Skit 2’ pay tribute to the rock roots of The Very Polish Cut Outs, employing samples taken from field recordings of old Polish radio and bands, whilst ‘Stacja Zagłuszania’ and ‘Za Daleki Sen’ are more typical electronic LP interludes, rooted in interesting synthesis and madcap drum programming with a strong hip-hop aesthetic.
The second half of the LP channels Ptaki’s melancholy emotions much more than the first half; opting to go with sombre chord progressions and plenty of Burial-style ambient background noise that adds the lingering sense of unease, despite the cold beauty of the music. ‘Słoneczny Pył’ is a masterpiece in building tension; strings, piano and hats ease in and out like the gentle ebb of the tide, whilst a brooding bassline keeps time in the absence of a kickdrum. ‘Słoneczny Pył’, translated as ‘Sunny Dust’, is the impassioned female refrain which hints at a brighter dawn behind the murky tension, and again shows Ptaki’s adept skill in balancing emotions through melody. An off kilter kick resonates in the background of ‘Deszczem’ like a funeral march drum, solemnly dragging the tone of the LP into darker depths. However, there are moments of clarity as the track breaks briefly to muse on some pan pipes or guitar flourishes, before returning to the overcast groove. Ptaki’s ‘Flight’ soars triumphantly from the shadows with ‘Już Tyle’, a wonderful downtempo number that softy serenades with the line ‘I love you so much already’. The production levels that have been so impressive throughout the LP are characterised at their best in this particular number, with the levels of each constituent part being perfectly placed in the mix, not even a storming electric guitar solo can overpower the track and unbalance the fine musical equilibrium that Ptaki strike for the duration of Przelot.
Bass music is another big part of Polish dance music, and ‘Gdy Nadchodzi Pora Księżycowa’ is a nod to Ptaki’s contemporaries like The Phantom – who has released bass music on labels such as the internationally respected US imprint – Apothecary Compositions. A wonky uplifting steppa’, it’s a thoroughbred dubstep track, but doesn’t completely abandon the general aesthetic of the album, as a sporadic saxophone glides between the dreamy pads and pan pipes that keep Ptaki’s ‘Flight’ on an upwards trajectory towards the end of its journey. However, no journey would be complete without a last minute scare and ‘Jelitkowo’ takes us from the sunshine back into a turbulent patch. Starting optimistically with a vibrant piano flourish, it simmers into the sound of the wind blowing in the background before a stirring guitar solo leads us into uncertain territory, grounded by another pensive drum beat, much in the same vein as ‘Deszczem’ a few tracks earlier. However, as with all the more introspective pieces on Przelot, there is a lingering optimism that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, as the minor keys are interspersed with major chords at carefully chosen points, giving the melodic and emotional harmony that make this album so accomplished. Bursting into sunshine, Ptaki’s journey ends joyously with ‘Girlandly’. Returning to the balearic guitar formula that opened up the LP, it breezes along with a touch of class before the opulent synth stabs raise it into jubilant ecstasy.
With Przelot, Ptaki have proved to be master craftsmen of emotion, conveyed through the instrumentation and melodic structure of their tracks, conveying the particular mood of each production with remarkable accuracy. The incredible tension and progression throughout the LP feels extremely natural, with very subtle control over the levels, and use space is utilised magically to add depth. The production on every track is phenomenal with field recordings and background ambience employed to great effect to provide a textured, layered finish. Another plus point is the use of vocal samples, which on the whole is excellent. Used in moderation, the vocal sound-bites avoid the cheese trap as they are sung in Polish, in the same way that recent Japanese re-releases have avoided being labelled as crass mostly due to the intrigue surrounding foreign culture. Ptaki have succeeded with peaking interest in Polish foreign culture with their music and association with The Very Polish Cut-Outs, and instead of riding off the cultural interest surround the Pole’s collective, they have released an LP of impeccable standards, both musically and technically. With talents like they have displayed on this LP, Przelot (Flight) is an appropriate name for their debut effort as the sky seems like the limit.
Ptaki’s Przelot is available to buy on CD + vinyl right now on Bandcamp.