Fish in Oil: Drnch (Mascom)

An interesting and intense combination of global interest and a very local interpretation of world`s music history


A quick glance at the cover of the second album by Fish in Oil is suggesting that it is about some sort of Yugo-nostalgic atrocities : the first composition “FNR -Y ?” is associated with the early post-war Yugoslavia, which has not yet put the title of “socialist” in its name, and the very name of the album will have almost all men older than 40 years recall the days of service in the National army, and the endless cleaning of the weapons which at the end did not save what was, at the green table, inevitably lost.

Deterdžentski Rastvarač Naslaga Čađi (Weapon rust remover brand) was not only a part of the obligatory rituals of maintaining the weapons, but the same acronym was used to describe the meals made ​​from the remains of the lunch made in military kitchens the previous day, testifying that the (self-proclaimed) fourth strongest army in Europe didn`t have anything fancy in the field of their culinary quality. However, when enough time passes and when the ugly memories take on a nostalgic quality, a listener justifiably wonders whether the band is attempting to create with this album their place in the culture of the main stream of modern Serbia, relying on ubiquitous fetishism of old Yugoslavia where everything, even pop music, was beautiful and innocent.

This is not an unreasonable doubt. Fish in Oil, with their first album “Poluostrvo” and an active concert program secured their place in the eyes of the audience, which is moving between jazz and more avant-garde form of popular music; yet, their playing and composition qualities have always suggested that Braca Radovanović and his team could go in a bit more ambitious direction, to impose the mainstream scene – no matter what it actually is today. This band that almost effortlessly combines expressive jazz and playful variations of rock music with a certain interpretation of classical dance genres, potentially, could be an attraction that will adorn the main stages of Exit, Nišville and Belgrade Jazz Festival, accepted by all generations.



In fact, Fish in Oil do not appear to have this ambition. “Drnch” is an album that, like the previous one, does not have a recognizable thematic focus. Songs, all instrumental, are titled almost incidentally, it seems that they haven`t moved much from the first (working) title (Pijeta, Melanholija, Jel surfujes?), but slightly upgraded them. Also, from the music side of things, “Drnch” still holds the eclecticism that doesn’t owe much to the Balkan heritage, choosing instead New York Downtown as a reference point from which they move to another study of the history of popular music.

“Drnch” is, of course, the proverbial problematic – second – album that comes after a successful debut that established the identity and philosophy of the band, just like a luxurious business card. Remain the same and still evolve, not repeat yourself but continue with the recognizable theme, these are the challenges that many great bands face. Fish in Oil has that advantage that Braca Radovanovic has been making music under this name and in various forms for almost two full decades, so the second album comes as an extension of the already established narrative, and a less painful effort to repeat the successful formula that was spontaneously established with the first one.

And in fact, if we were given a choice to make criticism about “Drnch”, it would be that it may initially lack a little fierceness. This is a long album with thoroughly elaborated themes safely arranged by the group that investigated the music without a haste, and, as such, risks in certain moments to come out as almost academically developed composing, with all the consequences of the topics tested consistently at a carefully measured pace. This band that certainly knows how to heat up the atmosphere at their concerts and create a situation so that both the audience and musicians are sweating, here, missed perhaps several opportunities to do a couple of daring turns at the right angles and with the genre diversions challenge themselves, so they can come out of it maybe a little freaked out but refined, with songs that could be livelier on behalf of its formal imperfections.

On the other hand, if the “perfection” is the worst objection to the album, it’s safe to say that we’re talking about a very good CD. Fish in Oil demonstrate here the maturity that goes far beyond their (still) local limits of recognition which is allowing them to play for the score and for the audience. Already the first song, the above-mentioned “FNR -Y?” is a powerful surf theme that wisely combines the melancholy and the passion that break our thin strings, still without any emotional blackmail and condescension in front of the listener. Guests on the horns (which are hand arranged by Dule Petrović), and the effective role of an ancient analog synthesizer Roland Juno-60 show that the core of the Fish in Oil setup can easily be extended in innovative ways, without losing the basic idea of the band.



The program continues with the trips to the expected side – ” Hugo ” is a sentimental but dignified tango, and “Jel surfujes?” and “A la Hendrix” are approaching the history of rock music from two different sides and serve hard beats and guitar pyrotechnics, which once again confirms Radovanovic`s high pedigree. This is a guitar player against who people don`t really want to compete, even in the songs where he plays in a supporting role – like be-bop(ish) “Hey, hey” – Braca sounds very personal, fresh, thoughtful and spontaneous at the same time. In short, the guitar on this album is played by a man who sleeps and eats with a guitar, thinks about it and works with it throughout the day, and you can hear that very well.

Of course, the rhythm section made of Franklin, Papa Nick and Radojković makes real miracles with its flybys from jazz polyrhythm to subtle steps of tango or waltz, but undoubtedly the most impressive voice – in addition to Radovanović`s – is the one that comes from the lungs through the saxophone of Dušan Petrović. This is one of Petrović`s best recordings ever made, with a gorgeous range of ideas, from developing melancholic themes in a three-quarter dance “Fragola” to the falsetto that arrives in the final of the free jazz ‘’Pijeta’’.

Jazz songs are the most interesting experiments on this album, because their arrangements sensitively strained so the subjects can allow its evolution to the limit; the impression is that these complex compositions demonstrate where the real creative interest in the band lives. Nearly aggressive “Kleveta” and dreamy, shrouded in smoke “Bella”, are the two ends of a jazz spectrum which Fish in Oil explores with equal passion. Though these songs are not characterized by an instant hit-maker like surf or tango pieces, it seems that the band is the most interested in a combination of their freedom and discipline. We might already know how the third album will sound…

“Drnch” is an album whose identity is again interesting and intense combination of global interest and a very local interpretation of world`s music history (and geography). In Serbia, no one sounds like Fish in Oil, and although it is clear which New York authors deserve a credit for the music curiosity that characterizes Braca Radovanovic and his crew when composing, it is also clear that the passion that this music has, becoming alive on the album or a concert stage, has nothing to do with the imitations of ordinary Serbian club-gig and tribute bands. Fish in Oil are making global music their own even on their second album, and if that itself is not enough to penetrate the mainstream, then we need a better mainstream.



Track list: FNR-Y; Hugo; Jel surfuješ?; Bella; AlaHendrix; Melanholija; Hej Hej!; Kleveta; Fragola; Pijeta.

Musicians: Bratislav Radovanović – guitar; Dušan Petrović – saxophones; Branislav Radojković – bass; Feđa Franklin – drums; Papa Nik – percussion; Miloš Nikolić – trumpet (1, 4, 5); Vukašin Marković – trombone (1, 4, 5); Džijan Emin – French horn, keyboard (1, 4).


Translation from original article (11.12.2013) : Sofija Knežević

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