The 2nd album from Belgrade Ethno-Noise outfit Lenhart Tapes, boldly extends producer Vladimir Lenhart’s acclaimed re-tooling of submerged Balkan musics.
Hypnotic Walkman jams meet industrial rhythm loops and trad-folk songs interpreted by a lineup of thrilling female vocalists: Tijana Stanković, Svetlana Spajić (Gordan, Pjevačka družina) and Zoja Borovčanin (Lira Vega).
A magical, beauty-and-the-beast encounter of dirty noise and righteous folk.
Fans love labels, musicians tend not to, so it’s rare to find one so ready to oblige. Vladimir Lenhart will happily drop Ethno-Noise on you, then leave you to work out what that might mean. You’ll have a pretty good idea after about a minute of this record ¬― or indeed if you’ve spent any time in the Balkans generally, surrounded by folk music in all its incarnations, and in Belgrade specifically, which yields up the ghosts of the Yugoslav punk and industrial scenes of the 1980s and the city’s current experimental excursions to anyone with time to listen and explore.
The interrogation of folk and the national songbook has gained considerable currency in the last several years (think Damir Imamović in Bosnia, Richard Dawson in the UK or labelmates Altın Gün), but Lenhart Tapes are taking a slightly different path. Vladimir’s grandfather Ján was a popular interpreter of Slovak folk song in the 1950s, and the careful marshalling of national minority cultures in Yugoslavia produced a musical heritage that continues to resonate for those that have come after. Being younger, however, means that they have their own musical stories to tell and influences to work round. Vladimir’s tapes-by-the-kilo, car-boot-sale approach is something familiar to turntablists and hip-hop artists, but it’s his love of industrial sound that’s key, producing a magical, beauty-and-the-beast encounter of dirty noise, improvised violin and righteous folk.
Vladimir Lenhart is only one half of the story here, however. Enter Tijana Stanković: singer, classically trained violinist, ethnomusicologist and Radio Belgrade music editor. By Vladimir’s own admission, her encyclopaedic knowledge of the music he had grown up with turned the project from something somewhat ironic to something very sincere. He recalls an immediate connection, over a shared love of that music, and it’s a connection that has since developed in perhaps unforeseen directions, with Tijana herself pushing Vladimir into an even more uncompromising sonic stance. It’s a happy provocation, and one that marks this record out as a collaboration of equals.
The slow burn of Lenhart Tapes’ emergence has been built upon a set of scorching small-venue performances, with Vladimir’s Walkmans laying down a collage of beat, noise and tune for Tijana’s voice and violin to respond to and, at times, work against. But if you think that makes them more of a live than a recorded proposition, you’d be wrong. A decade of sporadic releases, frequently on cassette, was followed by 2021’s Duets, a sweeping, sample-heavy progress report. Now comes Dens, which hits a different kind of stride. The loops and samples of the previous record are still there, but are joined by an expanded roster of musicians and bolstered by the return of Tijana after a musical sojourn in Budapest. It’s denser, more considered, but still spacious; and it’s as rackety as Belgrade, one of Europe’s most intense capitals, but beautifully put together.
There’s the nod to the dancefloor in the opener, ‘Vodu Brala’, which feels like a coda to Duets, after which the record becomes very much its own universe, from the junkyard orchestration of ‘Žuta Žaba’, to ‘Džamahirija’, a track of pure propulsion and commitment that Adrian Sherwood needs to listen to, and the glorious, sludgy ‘Mejremo’, which is perhaps what The Velvet Underground might have sounded like if they’d been Belgrade decadents rather than New York ones.
There’s a lot going on in this record, and you’ll want time (and your biggest ears) to catch it all. Expertly produced and mastered, with superb vocal presence courtesy of Tijana Stanković, Zoja Borovčanin and Svetlana Spajić, it’s an endlessly fascinating analogue journey that rewards repeated and close listening. Where will they go next? One thing’s for certain, Lenhart Tapes will continue to bring the Noise.