[Reviewed by Damiano Lanzi]
Austras Laiwan is the solo project of multi-instrumentalist Alexey Popov from the Kaliningrad- combo Sunset Wings, one of the most renowned bands in the field of acoustic/neoclassical folk nowadays. The fact that the musical coordinates are similar to the main project is immediately evident at a first listen: minimal compositions characterized by classic instrumentation, with an ambience inspired by wide eastern landscapes. In fact many of the musicians featured in this record are “borrowed” from Sunset Wings. But the fact that the musical formula is not radically new doesn’t mean that “Birds In Shells” does not deserve attention. On the other hand, the interpretation of these songs shows a much deeper degree of intimacy than the works heard before: the vocals are often just a whispered speech and they’re interleaved by long instrumental sections, but this gives an unprecedented intensity to it all and makes this album really personal despite the fact that more musicians are involved into it. To underline that fact, the mix has a really natural feel, the sounds of all the instruments are left quite dry, without strong reverbs or other effects. You constantly have the impression of a small ensemble that’s playing live, feeling the breath and the natural tones of each instrument, most of all when unusual instruments such as the bandura or psaltery appear into the composition. Another thing that strongly marks the album and that works as a trait d’union between the tracks are the natural sound effects: water, wind and animals. You often don’t even notice that a song has flowed into another, and you get a feeling of total relaxation and immersion into this atmosphere, as it happens in the three-piece suite “Wītas Āldikas Pēismen”. This element helps bring the music into a specific context and when these sounds meet some different influences such as neofolk (“Hail the Dawn” and the subsequent “Carpe Diem / Avēs Et Mollia”) you get the most interesting results.