Haris and Panos Katsimichas
Η Αγέλαστη Πολιτεία Και Οι Καλικάντζαροι


4.0
excellent

Review

by Voivod STAFF
February 27th, 2022 | 4 replies


Release Date: 1996 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Almost 20 years in the making, this album stands as monument of bespoken, Hellenic Christmas folklore.

Christmas holiday season is a time period that drives people to buy presents for their friends and relatives, so almost every industry sector is swift to satisfy the needs that lie ahead. Music labels and their major artists, are no exception. Rather, they are instrumental in securing an additional cash flow towards all invested parties, churning best of/greatest hits compilations or albums with Christmas songs. Regarding the latter format, it is more or less bespoken to the artist in terms of renditions and artwork, unless the moniker reads Trans-Siberian Orchestra, in which case, the project’s end result, shadows its unitary components. Music-/concept-wise, the surviving guys from Savatage and their associates, will always be the proverbial Christmas project that dwarfs every makeshift release of kin. From country to country though, the corresponding Christmas/end-of-year folklore has been subject to reprises and adaptations that deserve to be unearthed, at their place of origin and/or abroad. Regarding Hellas, a notable example in that respect is the 1995 album of Katsimichas twin brothers, Haris and Panos, titled Η Αγ*λαστη *ολιτεία και οι Καλικάντζαροι (The Morose City and the Goblins).

The album concept came as a dream and put to paper by Panos on an August night in 1977, during his days as a French literature graduate student in Paris, France, whereas the music was written in West Berlin, Germany along with Haris, who was studying German literature. Now, something that’s not known to a lot of the twin’s compatriots, about the album under review here; in 1979, Katsimichas bro aired/recorded the concept on the Third Programme of the Hellenic national radio, under the auspice of producer Nikos Pilavios who worked full-time there. (At the same time, the twins struggled to find a label to release their first full-length album Ζεστά *οτά, something that finally happened in 1985, but that’s another story to tell…). In between spontaneous communication of the album concept with friends abroad, compatriot, cartoonist and West Berlin resident Nikos Maroulakis (RIP) expressed genuine interest for the plot, and started painting its storyboards “just for fun”; his work was eventually published in the ‘80s by a major Greek outlet, with the twins coming into the know about it, a posteriori. Meanwhile, Katsimichas bros were so busy releasing albums and playing live at venues in Greece in the ‘80s and the ‘90s; few people other than them and their associates knew that the as-broadcasted work on Hellenic public radio, was subject to third party interpretations, or gradually remade by Katsimichas twins themselves.

Compared to the crude 1979 edition, the concept story, as it appears in the 1995 album, is considerably optimized. On par with the Hellenic folklore, the story follows the Greek version of goblins (Kalikantzaroi), cunning dancers and singers, as they hack all year the tree that underpins Earth, in order to topple the world. During Christmas, the lore has it that the aforementioned activity is suspended, as the goblins rise to the surface and tease – like descendants of Dionysus paraders – whoever comes in their way. Happy and fulfilled that they wrought havoc, they return to the underworld, only to see with dread and despondency, that the tree they’ve been hacking all year has grown strong again, and that they must resume activities from scratch. Now, dreams have been known to distort the reality that feeds them in esoteric ways, so it goes without saying that the same happened to Panos. The twist in the plot is that at one point, the goblins are utterly fed up going over the same “mundane” drill year after year, and decide to narrow in on Morose City, famous for its riches and prominence, but also notorious for its moroseness and social hostility. Amidst pagan dances and festivities around a giant boiling cauldron, master goblin Mandrakulos and co., devise a plan to suffuse the spirit of Christmas to the dormant citizenship of Morose City. In effect, the city’s youth becomes the seed of change, as opposed to the majority of the elders...

Before their return to Greece, Katsimichas twins had spent a considerable time in Germany and France, where they played Greek folk/rebetiko music in taverns and pubs, seven nights a week. This hectic itinerary turned them into proficient musicians, but their time abroad also made them directly aware of the musical developments that took place in the ‘70s, which in effect, infiltrated their own material. As far as mainstream folk/pop rock goes, their prominence amongst their compatriot peers is tried and proved every time one of their records is spun (especially their debut); with The Morose City... however, Haris and Panos reached, embraced and interpreted the legacy of ‘70s folk/psychedelic/progressive rock heroes such as Jethro Tull or Grateful Dead, even. Throughout the album and apart from his singing/instrument playing duties, Haris has the role of a kid-now-grown-up who narrates what happened that Christmas. Along with main orchestrator Thymios Papadopoulos, Panos is focused on the music and arrangements, whereas the twins’ trademark sing-alongs, emerge gracefully when the storytelling prompts it. However, the album in its final form would not bear merit it does, were it not for the assembled tessellation of talented collaborators. From the atmospheric female vocals, to the children choirs, and from there to Yannis Spathas (RIP) from Socrates, who plays his electric guitar whenever necessary, every piece matters during the grooves and hills of the narrative. Beyond the concept that it dresses, the music can stand on its own, so prospective foreign listeners are eagerly prompted to ignore the fact that Katsimichas bros sing in their mother tongue.

By 1995, Haris and Panos were critically acclaimed artists within Greece, but The Morose City... was a significant departure from their usual style, therefore their audience and fans that cherish this album specifically, took more time than usual, to process and embrace it. The main culprit is its the nonlinear musical nature, when compared to ‘99% of the mainstream folk/pop scene in Greece, or Katsimichas bros back catalog. The packaging of the original pressing could also be an initially bewildering factor, as the release passed/passes as “yet another” Katsimichas bros album. The Morose City... was communicated slowly but steadily through word of mouth, to the point where it is now considered a school play of reference in Greek kindergardens and elementary schools during Christmas. Katsimichas bros have said it’s the best thing they’ve ever done, and it’s true; it is so much more than the textbook Christmas release, domestic or foreign.



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user ratings (1)
4
excellent


Comments:Add a Comment 
Voivod
Staff Reviewer
February 27th 2022


9776 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Initial 1979 concept radio broadcast with Nikos Pilavios - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cdLz4-TWym4



Final 1995 concept -

http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=OLAK5uy_kRmn1rgsKvy98UvzBfp5X5-xbHwms2h9E





Constructive criticism is most welcome.

manosg
Staff Reviewer
February 28th 2022


12523 Comments


Great read and this looks really interesting, as I am not familiar with the album. Will give it a spin.

Egarran
February 28th 2022


29301 Comments


Fantastic review.

Voivod
Staff Reviewer
February 28th 2022


9776 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Thanks guys.



I picked this up at a duty free shop a few months after its release, without having the slightest clue about what I signed up for.



It’s been a regular Christmas soundtrack ever since.



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