In August 2000, the Russian submarine Kursk sank after an on-board explosion. The world watched while rescue attempts were made but these were to no avail. It was subsequently discovered that 23 of the 118 submariners on board survived the initial explosion but perished when their oxygen supplies ran out. The tragedy inspired this track on Matt Elliott’s 2005 album Drinking Songs.
Elliott was initially a member of Bristol space-rockers Flying Saucer Attack, before recording five albums of experimental electronic slanted rock as Third Eye Foundation. He ditched the moniker in 2002 in order to pursue a more song-oriented path under his own name. Drinking Songs was his second (and most recent) post-TEF work. The album is aptly titled. At its core, it is in essence a folk record consisting of voice and guitar. But this is tweaked, multi-tracked and generally squished into something that sounds positively woozy. Like life viewed through an alcohol-fueled fug.
“The Kursk” (dedicated, in the sleevenotes, to “those lost at sea”) is more than eleven minutes long, but doesn’t actually seem so. It starts off with some sound effects that are supposed to represent the submarine’s sinking but, to be honest, sound more like somebody dropping a tea tray. They are, in any case, unnecessary. The track itself is built around a repeated guitar figure overlaid with cello and multi-tracked, wordless voices. The melody is a simple one that evokes the great Red Army Choir songs of the steppes. The lyrical figure is almost nursery rhyme like in its simplicity, but nonetheless chilling: “It’s cold I’m afraid / It’s been like this for a day / The water is rising and slowly we’re dying / We won’t see light again / We won’t see our wives again”. This is repeated as a mantra. The track begins to fade some three minutes from the end. The multitude of voices thin out until there is only one – and then that, too, is snuffed out.