Music for the Solitude of Siberia

“This is For Our Sins is a collection of songs that lends itself to solitude. Aside from receiving help with a few of the musical and vocal arrangements, the album’s tracks were all written, performed, recorded and distributed by multi-instrumentalist Andy Othling, who goes by the stage name Lowercase Noises. It is an album that was for the most part written by one person, alone, and – it is not the sort of thing that lends itself to live performances or party playlists – ought to be enjoyed alone. That theme of isolation can also be found in the story behind the album. Othling was inspired to write these songs after he read the book Lost in the Taiga, which documents the true story of the Lykovs, a family who, fearing that their lives were threatened on account of their beliefs, fled into the wilderness of southern Siberia.
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As members of an ultra-Orthodox branch of Christianity known as the Old Believers, the family was troubled by a growing sense of unease living in communist Russia. And so in 1936, after his brother was shot and killed, Karp Lykov decided that he would leave the world of civilization along with his wife Akulina, and their two children, Savin and Natalia. The family established a new life in the Russian wilderness, some 250 kilometers from the nearest settlement. Othling’s intention was to have “each song tell a part of the family’s story.” Listening to the mostly-instrumental songs that make up this album, however, one does not get a full sense of these situations. The quiet combinations of piano, guitar and banjo are incredibly beautiful, but their connection to this history is subtle. To help, he’s recorded a number of videos that explain the events behind each song, and recommends a number of books that have been written on the topic.
For example, “The Famine Years,” a song with a mournful melody driven by a steady beat, points to an extremely difficult time, in which the family struggled to grow, trap, raise or find any substantial amount of food. They were, Othling explains, “reduced to eating leather from their boots.” Akulina would ultimately starve herself to death in order that her children would survive. Her last words are translated to the lyrics that mark the song’s haunting end: “how will you get along without me?”
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The Lykovs remained completely isolated and undisturbed for decades, until they were discovered in 1978 by a group of Russian geologists. The name of the album’s title track comes from the family’s response to the sudden and unexpected arrival of these outsiders. They believed that their presence was a form of divine punishment for something they had done wrong. The geologists later reported that when they approached the Lykov settlement, the women were cowered inside one of the cabins, repeating “this is for our sins.” The Lykov’s relationship with these visitors was mixed and difficult. On the one hand, they were desperately in need of new clothing, tools and food, and welcomed the gifts and supplies that were offered. Still, they continued to view society with suspicion.
Three years later, the family was rocked by tragedy when three of the children (Akulina had given birth to two more children, Dmitry and Agafia, since they moved) died within months of each other, from illness which the family and others have attributed to the contact with these outsiders. For each of these losses, Othling composed a song: “Death of a Quiet Man,” “Death of a Harsh Man,” and “Death of a Godmother.” Several years later, Karp, the family’s father, also died. After some time, one of the geologists decided to return and build a cabin a short distance away from the family’s camp. Others would periodically return as well; Russian forestry workers mostly, and a few journalists intrigued by the story of a family who for nearly 50 years were not aware that World War II had taken place.
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Aside from these, however, Agafia has been the sole remaining member of the family’s remote settlement since 1988. She continues to live there today. The album’s final song, “The Timekeeper’s Theme,” is written about her.
Fans of neo-classical or minimalist genres will thoroughly enjoy this album. That said, musically, this album might not be for everyone. In his effort to capture the spirit of this family’s journey, there are points at which Othling’s compositions swell to points of tension and drop to low, dark melodies. If nothing else, the album’s historical inspiration is fascinating, perhaps especially for a follower of Christ working out what it means to be part of this world, and yet apart from it.”
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“This is for Our Sins” can be heard on-line beginning at:

Especially recommended is “Famine and the Death of a Mother”:
For Andy Othling, see:

For Lowercase Noises, see: and
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For an introduction to the Lykovs, see: and


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