What to Listen to This Week: Ivan & Alyosha

The band Ivan & Alyosha belongs to the genre of indie-folk-pop-rock (is that even a genre? if so, it is my favourite one). Their name does not stem from the names of the actual band members but from two characters in Dostoevsky’s great novel, “The Brothers Karamazov.” This alone makes the band super cool and worth a listen (I hope you didn’t read that with sarcasm, because I intend it to be fully serious, in accordance with my personal definition of “cool”).

In my opinion, there is a lot to like about Ivan & Alyosha (even aside from their awesome name). Their melodies are eminently enjoyable and the lead singer’s voice has a distinct, almost ethereal quality to it that makes the music memorable. Yet there is something more too, to do with the lyrics and an intangible quality of the music. There is a profound struggle and seeking involved in their songs, a beauty expressed not by skimming a shallow surface but by dipping deep into the well of the human mind and soul.

Their two full length albums (entitled “All The Times We Had” and “It’s All Just Pretend” respectively) both boast a beautiful collection of songs. In their most recent album, lyrics stretch from the bold and thought-provoking, “Freedom is where we are standing, Something is wrong” (in Something is Wrong) to the heart-wrenching opening of my personal favourite song, (Tears in your Eyes): “I’ve done my best, It’s not enough.” What makes these lyrics so special is not that they are all so innovative or new, but that they are real and honest, and this honesty comes out in the music.

Another reason that I love Ivan & Alyosha is their vision of music and their attitude towards the intersection of faith and art. The members of the band are Christian but they do not explicitly define their music as Christian nor themselves as Christian artists. They are simply artists who are Christians. They express this distinction best themselves, in an interview which you can read in entirety here:

“And we’re Christians, in a band. We’re not a Christian band. It’s a totally different thing, like writing a certain kind of song just for Christians . . . Yeah, it’s a part of our everyday life, you know? . . . Anytime I listen to [a songwriter], and I don’t believe what they’re saying, or I don’t believe that they believe what they’re saying, it gets really boring. You want a band to be writing about what they care about or what they believe . . . Maybe there are some bands that are afraid of it. But I think we’ve established that we’re not afraid of people knowing that. We’re just people trying to make records. Should it matter if we’re Christians or not?”

This aligns with my own vision of art and what art is intended to be. All good art unites with something transcendent within us. Authentic beliefs become integrated into the way we live our daily lives and so they cannot be separated from the art that we create. However, there is a difference between creating authentic art and creating art around an explicit message that you think should be disseminated (and to a specific group of people). I think that good art can be appreciated at least on some level regardless of whether the belief system of the recipient matches that of the artist. This is because the art was created by a human and is received by a human, so the two (the artist and audience) necessarily have something in common.

I think Ivan & Alyosha’s authentic joy in creating and honesty in creating songs that speak to their real selves come out in their music, resulting in songs that hold meaning, songs that matter, songs that breathe alongside us in our human triumphs and struggles.