[13 January 2010]
The good men of Russian Circles began making a name for themselves with their 2006 debut, Enter, a compelling blend of experimental post-rock that sounds similar to Explosions in the Sky with moments of aggression. True, you generally can’t go wrong with sweeping and emotive instrumental music, at least in terms of execution, but what always sets the casual purveyors apart from the dedicated specialists is the attention to detail. Competent musicianship isn’t enough in a genre devoid of lyricism—though it must be said that often the music itself becomes lyrical—and so there must be something else, something unique, to keep each band from being just another drop in the proverbial ocean of sound. Being good is fine, but being memorable is much better.
One of the most notable ways Russian Circles does this on Geneva, their third album in as many years, is through subtle orchestral touches, as on the schizophrenic “Melee” and the beautifully brooding “Hexed All”. What’s greater still is that these elements aren’t immediately apparent and take repeated listens to notice, seeping slowly into one’s ears like a whisper that beckons a dreamer awake. This kind of rewarding experience not only makes a record impressive, but completely enhances its replay value and shelf life with the promise of some new revelation to appreciate after each spin. In the digital age, when single tracks can be purchased at a clicking whim, it’s important not to underestimate this quality.
The post-rock tendency to rely on airy and ethereal guitar notes is subdued as well, and at times it seems like Russian Circles only uses it to make way for the robust thumping of the bass, as with “Geneva”. This focus on the low end of the sonic spectrum is a brilliant redirection by the band, and it helps accentuate the effectiveness of the ubiquitous transitions from soft to loud. “Malko” also utilizes this approach to create the album’s most consistently heavy track, which crashes unrelentingly like a sententious storm upon the shore. Both tracks in particular serve as aural benchmarks, deftly demonstrating the band’s ability to shred their respective guitars and smash the hell out of the skins, before transitioning into something more serene.
“When the Mountain Comes to Mohammed” is Geneva‘s version of theological pontification, building up gradually over an unintelligible broadcast into a prophetic and sparse realization of brass and bass. The ten-minute epic of “Philos” closes the album, beginning like a doomsday alarm before becoming a clinic on elemental post-rock expression, which is to say that it is emblematic of the album as a whole. It makes use the stringed instrumentation I’ve already mentioned, works in a little crescendo-core, and slowly fades into oblivion with a shivering exit. Where some records might leave you wanting more, this one ends with a sense of total fulfillment and completion.
It’s hard not to feel that way when every note and every silence has a purpose, whether it’s meant to make the listener think, feel, or saturate in something more profound. Russian Circles, with their instruments well-used and dynamic, leaders in their own right, guide the listener through the varying courses of each song with nary a misstep. Once you’ve made it to Geneva, it’s obvious that journey is the only thing that matters.