Intimate dream pop from Budapest’s council estates, rooted in Hungarian underground traditions.
“Dad, is this a sad song?”, my sons asked me when I listened to Akarat (“Will”) by Mayberian Sanskülotts. My answer, fitting for a seasoned music critic, was “Yes. not really. I don’t know.” “Is it happy then?” “No. maybe, a bit.” I tried to say something about the contrast between the propulsive beats and the dreamy, melancholic guitars, but by then they didn’t listen to me: they were hooked on the chorus. Because whatever its mood is, Akarat is quite an earworm.
Mayberian Sanskülotts self-published their first album, aloneinkápmegyer in 2011, at the height of the “Hungarian bedroom pop revolution”, when a lot of great bands appeared on Bandcamp and Tumblr. (See this great overview and this compilation.) But while the context of most bands was the international lo-fi movement powered by social media, the music of Mayberian Sanskülotts was also rooted in local traditions
The fragile, intimate songs of the band (then the duo of Zita Csordás and Gallusz Balogh) evoked the Hungarian underground music of the 1980’s, especially the cult band Trabant, who often used genres from bygone eras (like tango or chanson), and were lo-fi by necessity. Sometimes they also evoke the diva and femme fatale Katalin Karády, famous for movies and songs made between 1939 and 1945. So aloneinkápmegyer is rooted in a specific place (kápmegyer is the nickname for the socialist council estate Káposztásmegyer in Budapest), but it’s very lo-fi sound (it was made on a cassette recorder) also lends it an otherworldly quality.
Next year, PseudoDeath followed in similar fashion, but soon a bunch of songs, Cesare’s Stray Sight and Akarat showed a cleaner sound with more emphasis on the beats (and a new, unlikely reference point: The Cranberries!). But it took the now expanded band four years to complete Adlait. This latest LP, a favourite of most Hungarian critics, makes the strong pop sensibilities of Mayberian Sanskülotts much more clear, while previously you had to dig deeper for their melodies. Yet their new sound is not “polished”. The music has a clear focus, shows an obvious care for all the little details, but retains a kind of emotional directness.
The band says, half-jokingly, that the songs are about “the suffering of our post-teenager years”, and indeed, the prevailing mood may be melancholic. But, as the great cover already suggests, there are many faces of this melancholy, from dreaminess to paradoxical happiness. Also, listening to the album as a whole is a surprisingly uplifting experience. That’s what makes Mayberian Sanskülotts much more than just your average indie pop band.