13-12-15-9-19-17-18-16-7-15-11. What is this? A sequence? Fibonacci-like, does it reveal an exquisite expansion, linking seemingly random numbers into an unseen order? It would be interesting if that were the case—more interesting than the real reason, certainly. Actually the numbers represent the order that the songs on ¡Forward, Russia!‘s debut were composed in a kind of self-aggrandizing catalogue, like the BV or K numbers given to compositions of Bach or Mozart. More interesting is the act—to eschew song titles in favour of abstract numbers—and what this conveys about the band’s attitude. That is, the band views itself as forward-thinking/abstract/arty, and they’re not pandering to your bourgeois desire for a label, man.
¡Forward, Russia!‘s successful reception back home in Britain illustrates the efficiency with which the singles-churning machine works. When you hear one fist-fueled anxious post-punk anthem in isolation, as you may have with Bloc Party’s “Helicopter”, say, or “Nine”, the band’s original single, it comes across as refreshingly abrasive. The hints of melody in the chorus are attractive but brittle, conveying a sense of discovery; and the mixture of Rapture and Bloc Party are effective in producing that kind of barely-contained energy that fires you up, makes fist-pumping an inevitability.
To the extent that both bands are somewhat underwhelming after the mountains of hype thrown their way, ¡Forward, Russia! and Bloc Party share obvious elements: repetitive, cutting guitars that jitter on single notes for a whole song; cackling post-punk vocal freakouts; and the constant, perpetually pushing-forward rhythms. On “Nineteen”, the calmest song on Give Me a Wall, singer Tom Woodhead shows he can hold a note better than Kele Okereke, with a clean, slightly lugubrious delivery (I wish we heard more of this voice, less of that post-punk freakout). That song is reminiscent of a very ragged U2, with the same sense of guitars’ potential for transcendence, all atmosphere and complex, swirling rhythms.
But the band is more abstract than Bloc Party; less concerned with this cosmopolitan, multicultural image or pulling that catchy melody out of strangulated vocals, ¡Forward, Russia! are content to be more cerebral, to refrain from offering the listener those attractive baubles to bob along to. Time signatures shift and songs change direction with a more nimble step than Bloc Party’s dogged dance-punk. On “Sixteen”, with its wavering out-of-tune vocals, a halting breakdown shifts and picks up pace, as squealing voices in the background shout out the numbers from one to 10. And the abstraction’s suited to ¡Forward, Russia!, since they’re so post-: punk, melody, songs with melodic development. They’re also significantly louder than Bloc Party. “Fifteen Pt I”, for example, opens with a thunder of guitar sound worthy of any self-respecting hardcore band. In this respect, the band is reminiscent of Test Icicles, though we can hope the pressure of hype doesn’t cause ¡Forward, Russia! to implode in the same way as that band.
Amid the multitudes of jangly, repetitive guitars and frenetic drums, the discipline of writing compelling music sometimes gets lost, though. Choruses are emphasized by call-together half-shouted vocals, while songs rely on driving rhythm and repetition to sputter through to the end. “Eighteen” is an example of this lack of focus: it’s just repeated driving rhythms with no development.
So like ¡Forward, Russia!, then, for the attitude; in contrast, the music has a pretty transient appeal. But the band’s got potential, and their insular but ferocious abstractions are worthy of a certain cautious investigation. If they can step up, ¡Forward, Russia! could create something with much more lasting appeal than their contemporary crop of post-punk, formulaic posers.
// Notes from the Road
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