Review Summary: A gorgeous, wondrous journey into the USSR, circa 1926, courtesy of Dziga Vertov and We Stood Like Kings.
The era of the silent film was largely over by 1930, harmed by the success of 'The Jazz Singer' (which was NOT the first 'talkie', but the first to garner widespread success) and then laid to rest by the invention of sound-on-film methods. With it, as an unfortunate by-product, went many of the composers dedicated to writing whole film scores, as did the orchestras that would play those live to the audience as they watched in the cinema. In more recent times however, some of these films have been brought back to life musically, either using the original scores or from the composition of new music. Belgian post-rock quartet 'We Stood Like Kings' come from the latter school, and with their second effort set out an absolutely breathtaking piece of music for Dziga Vertov's 1926 insight into the diversity of the Soviet Union, 'One-Sixth of the World'.
It would be easy to discuss at great length how this complements Vertov's documentary, and indeed watching the film alongside 'USSR 1926' is a truly wonderful experience (if occasionally a bit peculiar). However, what makes this such a good piece of music is that it's as good, if not better, when standing up for itself. One could be forgiven for thinking that this is simply one piece of music constructed from various movements - and a very reasonable argument could be made to show that one wouldn't be wrong - but regardless of where the listener stands on its make-up, as a composition this is stunning. The key driving force on 'USSR 1926' is its usage of piano, which forms the majority of the melodies and ergo the sections that prove immediately arresting, such as the crescendos of album highlight 'Samoyedes' and much of 'Kremlin' and 'Icebreaker Lenin'. However, equally important to the enjoyability and impact of this album are the atmospheric capabilities of the guitars and the synths - the aforementioned tracks both rely on the backing instrumentation to invoke the emotional reaction they do, and much of the dynamic shifting present is a product of these components. Tracks such as Caravan and Volchovstroy also allow the guitars to shine through as a key instrument, with a neat solo found at the end of the former and traces of progressive metal coming through in the latter.
While the tracks on 'USSR 1926' are all great in their own right, it's best experienced as a journey, in one solid go when the time is available. A journey is an oft-used buzzword when it comes to post-rock in particular, but in this instance it makes absolute sense; the progression between tracks, the inspiration behind it, and the array of emotions touched upon throughout mean there's not much that could describe it better. Although as mentioned earlier this is meant partially as a companion piece to a film (and again, should the time be found it is well worth watching alongside this album), the feeling that one could go into this without the preconceptions and the background and still
come out of it with a feeling of awe is very much my belief.