If you’re reading this review there is probably one reason, and one reason only, why you are reading it – the name: Meanwhile, Back In Communist Russia... How ***ing cool is that!? Before listening to them you’d be forgiven for having the impression that MBICR (as I will refer to them from now on) are a light-hearted, comedic affair. If that’s what you think then you would be wrong. Dead wrong. The now deceased Oxford-quintet play a fairly generic, but still captivating, form of post-rock but still manage to remain unique. They do this by vocalist, Emily Gray’s poetry being added to the mix. Softly whispered throughout it makes her tales from the gutter all the more poignant and mesmerising.
On their second and last album, ‘My Elixir, My Poison’ they pretty much follow the same blueprint that they had for their debut ‘Indian Ink’. On this album however, it is more sparsely notated creating a bleaker atmosphere. Ultimately, this works well as the mood matches Gray’s lyrics but this comes at the expense of more interesting compositions. In each and every song on ‘My Elixir; My Poison’ the vocals are the highlight/focal point – even though they are often indecipherable due to their hushed delivery. This is particularly the case on shorter tracks such as ‘Realization’
which is remarkable only for the prominent use of a double bass, and ‘Cusp’
which improves exponentially once the vocals enter the mix.
While Gray’s vocals do indeed make the album what it is, when they are not backed up adequately by the music their impact is somewhat lost. For example, the guitars at the start of ‘Roses For Her’
are so quiet that they are nearly rendered inaudible and so the vocals sound awkward when they are as good as on their own. In fact this is the only track on the album that is worse off for having the vocals, as the flourishes of piano in the track and the sections following these are by far the most worthwhile components of the track.
‘My Elixir, My Poison’ has a very wintry feel to it, and this is partly achieved by the sparse notation of much of the album, but also partly by the use of instruments such as xylophones and pianos. On a track like ‘Anatomies’
the cold timbre of the xylophones segueing into a warmer, almost loving, piano riff works brilliantly, and would do so even without the vocals. The tense, delicate riff running through much of ‘Heliotrope’
is just as cold, and is just as effective. However, the track is overly one-dimensional and could have benefited from having a more varied dynamic range. Songs like ‘Chinese Lanterns’
and the closing ‘Heatstroke’
on the other hand make great use of dynamics, the former being the more abrupt of the two, quickly shocking the listener out of a lull that the gentle music before the shift had created.
Album closer ‘Heatstroke’
is without a doubt the highlight of the album as it builds dynamically, and almost menacingly, towards the terrifying conclusion where the guitars delivers a final, haunting shriek. It is the perfect conclusion that is subtly wrought with Gray’s inner turmoil – much in the same way that ‘Indian Ink’ was. However, while she is the focal point, her quiet vocals are so
spellbinding that for the most part you cannot recall what the lyrics were – even only a couple of seconds after hearing them. The effect of this though is that the album leaves you in a trance like state as it is so soothing and hypnotic. ‘My Elixir, My Poison’ was Meanwhile, Back In Communist Russia’s final album, and was a great end to a too short career. Mesmerising and cathartic, it takes an alternative approach to post-rock and so sounds very original and unique as well as really, really good.