Distancing #4: Bend Sinister


I’m sheltered in place in the insultingly sunny hellhole of San Francisco, and the local gloom is nowhere near up to my standard. There’s hope in the air, and the facemasks are often floral. I know it’s an absurd thing to complain about, but some small part of me misses the empty narrow streets of Moscow’s older quarters. Even in the best of times they felt vaguely pandemic, with names like Terminal Alley and Avenue of the Fallen. The few people who walked them did so with a resigned determination that I’ve seen only in Russians, treating eye contact as a threat, or at least a transgression. 

Just about everything in my life has changed since then, apart from the soundtrack. I started listening to the Fall when I could barely speak any English, and Mark E. Smith’s intensely Mancunian accent and general disregard for enunciation made my education even harder. I felt the words before I could transcribe them, and once I could, I only fell further in love with these songs, often picturing each one as a large dense painting that has been battered, torn apart, and rearranged into a miniature.

Named after Nabokov’s one foray into dystopian fiction, Bend Sinister is the bleakest and most secluded Fall album, in lyrics and in sound. There’s a different shade of gray to this record: its melancholy is warm and seductive, not nearly as abrasive as what came before and what would come after. These are neither poems nor stories—they stay within that narrow inimitable category that is a Fall song, at once concrete and abstract, thoroughly dependent on the way the words are garbled or mumbled or snarled out. They say nothing, and do so in a way that feels like a liberation through ruthless editing and repetition.

I try to treat my more upsetting memories this way: strip them of their essence and reduce them to disconnected jumbles of symbols and words, until they start living on their own and rearrange themselves into more palatable visions. Back in Russia, Bend Sinister lent a bit of glamor to my misery. Today it takes me to a place where everything is indefinitely suspended in lightly speckled sepia and charged with a familiar quiet menace. It’s a safe place, removed as it is from any real menace I lived through, and flattened into a delicate backdrop—I don’t intend to move there, but now and then it’s worth a brief imaginary visit.

— Roman Muradov
San Francisco, day 34

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