Russian-born, Brooklyn-based songwriter/producer Olga Bell moved to New York in her early twenties to pursue her electronic pop compositions. Over the course of several years, Bell grew deeply immersed in New York's rich indie scene, eventually working with bigger name acts like Chairlift and Dirty Projectors in addition to cultivating her own stunningly composed solo work. While earlier EPs and tracks from Bell found her dallying in fields of lighthearted and bubbly laptop rhythms and a heavy Björk influence on her winding and whimsical vocals, full-length album Krai takes an entirely different approach. Sung completely in Russian, the nine tracks are inspired by the cold histories of lesser-known Russian territories, Bell weaving her multi-tracked and often pitched-down vocals over highly compositional arrangements for cello, percussion, guitar, and electronics. The icy updates of traditional melodies on slow-moving tracks like "Stavropol Krai" are a far cry from her shiny indie tunes, but the broken beats, tinny guitar lines, and spirals of vocal harmonies of "Perm Krai" have elements in common with the more traditional song structures of her solo work and those of her side band Dirty Projectors. The moments of pop are catchy and engaging, but far more compelling are the songs that dig deeper into tense dynamics and protracted storytelling. Sprawling opener "Krasnodar Krai" spreads out with patient, neo-classical arrangements that melt into long stretches of a cappella vocals. Moments like these give Krai the same isolated, beautiful feel as Nico's frigid masterpiece The Marble Index, though filtered through Bell's intense look at the less-traversed corners of her Russian heritage and her unique way with electronics, vocal arrangement, and composition.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas