Review Summary: Post rock with power chords
If you read the self-written biography of Russian Circles posted on their website, you’ll find their humbleness-be damned sound-description includes thesaurus humping words like gargantuan
, with songs that “flow seamlessly from beautiful soft ambience to truly defined melody to massively thick heaviness with a gradual progression that never leaves you lost.”
Geared up for generic post rock yet?
Don’t be. In a genre chock full of bands trying to rewrite The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place
(with each failure hammering another nail into post rock’s ever-closing coffin), Russian Circles do their damned best to be a breath of fresh air. Rather than indulge in the glorious sound-scapes and masturbatory EQ fondling of their peers, Russian Circles make music that legitimately rocks
. Gone are the noodly pretentions and dreary periods of ambience. Enter heaps of guitar licks, audible bass, and drums not totally relegated to gratuitous climactic cymbal smashing. Indeed, with their second album Station
, Russian Circles attempt to push the boundaries of post rock, cranking the volume and damning the consequences. And on that front, Station
is a success. If only Russian Circles hadn’t fallen victim to the plagues of their peers and broken out of their self-imposed shell.
See, Russian Circles clearly know how to write a damn fine tune, and Station
rocks that tune six-fold. Four out of Station
’s six songs follow a strict formula: Begin with tensioned guitar running riffage, add some furious and/or reserved drumming (which, it's worth noting, makes a star out Dave Turncrantz), bring the house down with a profusely intense climax, and resolve it all gently. The most obvious (and most delicious) culprit of said formula is “Harper Lewis”, which shows Russian Circles nailing all the points of their formula to a T. It has an opening vignette that builds up the anxiety, gives way to a frenzied central climax courtesy of a “dun-dun-dun” breakdown, and then the glorious resolution of the piece, stamping optimism after an adventure of a listen. It’s the record’s best track, and indeed, as the crux to the albums opening half, “Harper Lewis” exemplifies what Russian Circles attempt on Station
perfectly: metal-twinged instrumental music that actually approaches the “gargantuan sound” they imposed on themselves. To their credit, Russian Circles imitate said sound well, if to a lesser extent than they do on “Harper Lewis”, throughout Station
. Yet even though Station
’s greatest strength comes from Russian Circles’ desire to bring something fresh to the table, therein lies the record’s biggest problem.
While the power chord mayhem of “Harper Lewis” is an awesomely welcome take on a dying music, it’s not so incredible as to replicate it numerous times on a single record. On “Youngblood”, the Chicago trio opens with eerie guitar, goes for a hellfire breakdown complete with furious power chords and intense drumming, drops out to lull the listener back into a false sense of security, then throws caution to the wind and lets everything loose again. The album’s title track follows the exact same pattern, making Station
get frustratingly similar very quickly, turning a bevy of smartly crafted tracks into a giant mesh of sameness. Ironically, the fact that so much of Station
stays strictly within Russian Circles’ fresh sound makes the more standard post rock tunes stick out from the formulaic pieces. “Versus”, for example, is a slow burning piece decked out with delay pedals and the like, and album closer “Xavii” out-Lows Low with its arpeggiated reverb-heavy phrases and minimalist drumming. As a closer to such an exhaustingly intense record, “Xavii” provides the album’s greatest highlight, as it’s the one track of Station
that doesn’t feel like it’s trying too hard.
That’s the biggest problem with Station
: it’s not a bad record, it just tries to be too “gargantuan” for its own good. If Russian Circles can sidestep some of their self imposed clichés, they have the potential to be a much needed force in the post rock scene. With only three members, Russian Circles bring music louder, more furious (and sometimes immensely more interesting) than some of their septet, octet, nontet, etc. peers. It’s clear they have the ability. If they ever figure out how to use it, watch out.