¡Forward, Russia!: Life Processes

¡Forward, Russia! should be commended for asking questions of themselves when they could have sat pretty and cemented their position as dance-punk heroes.


Life Processes

Display Artist: ¡Forward, Russia!
Label: Mute
US Release Date: 2008-07-22
UK Release Date: 2008-04-14

¡Forward, Russia!'s debut album, Give Me a Wall, was one of the clear highlights of the dance-punk craze that rattled its collective hi-hat relentlessly for a while a couple of years back. The histrionically named Leeds four-piece boasted an urgency and intensity that many of their peers simply couldn't match, their danceable rhythm section only one half a picture that also boasted inventive guitar noodling, a wildly theatrical vocalist and the occasional blistering surge of noise.

But while these traits ensured the gimmickry of matching T-shirts, songs that were numbered rather than named and, of course, a penchant for the Hispanic exclamation marks, were only a fleeting focus, ¡Forward, Russia! are admirably discontent to rest on their laurels. Indeed, going by their second long-player, Life Processes, the band's name now appears less like an explosion in a punctuation factory and more like a mission statement. Forward, it seems, is the only way here, for better or for worse.

And it is for better and for worse, variably, as it happens. For Life Processes is a concerted step towards a bigger sound, more concerned with widening eyes than shifting feet. When it comes off, as on "Spring Is a Condition", the band's sound has evolved into something grand and dramatic, while retaining its sense of energy and freedom from bombast. But other tracks, "A Shadow Is a Shadow Is a Shadow" for one, struggle to accommodate this ambition and resort to pushing clamorous guitars and a fidgety vocal in no particular direction.

That said, Life Processes doesn't have any particularly bad songs, just some that struggle to find sure footing in the step up in scale. The album does, however, take longer to sink in than its predecessor -- had this review been written after just a single listen there'd no doubt be a lower number at the end of it -- which more than anything indicates the band's widened vision; the focus here is on the bigger picture, rather than instant gratification. This is most evident on the slow burners: "Some Buildings" is a seven-minute process of incremental growth, the steadily accelerating engine of Whiskas's guitar underpinning a part-resigned, part-sinister refrain of "some buildings are built to be broken" before eventually breaking out into a towering conclusion. Single "Breaking Standing" is a creeper in an entirely different sense, initially underwhelming to those used to the raucous energy of Give Me a Wall but with a chorus that sounds more and more accommodating with every listen.

Even when instilled with a shot of Give Me a Wall's urgency Life Processes remains ambitious, however. Indeed, the album is persistently declaratory, its song titles often ringing out as proclamations ("Welcome to the Moment", "We Are Grey Matter", "A Prospector Can Dream", "Spring Is a Condition"). It's fitting then that those same songs should have a concurrent sense of importance, embodied both in Tom's lyrics and in a sound that is frequently imposing. The former is both a blessing and a curse, with the apocalyptic to-and-fro of "Welcome to the Moment" suiting Tom Woodhead's wildly oscillating vocal to perfection ("This a problem / There is no solution") but "A Prospector Can Dream" struggling to bear the weight of the themes lobbed its way ("Did you ever study the Israelites? / They made a new life for themselves with such a peculiar change").

Crucially, however, both tracks manage the balance of Life Processes capably, maintaining that drive while simultaneously spreading ¡Forward, Russia!'s sound, and in particular Whiskas's guitar, thicker than ever before. "Gravity & Heat" perhaps spreads it a little too thick -- its heavier, power chord-laden sections carry a whiff of generic alt-rock -- but its impossible to criticise the band's choice to push themselves, particularly if it leads them writing songs like "Spanish Triangles". The album's nine-minute closer is a massive, yearning opus, its instrumentation steeped in post-rock but its vocal bordering on the anthemic, as Woodhead's most assured performance yet segues into a collective, conclusive chant.

In the end, though, it's "We Are Grey Matter" that epitomises Life Processes as a whole. As close to prog as dance-punk will ever come, the track blends together Give Me a Wall's synth (generally overlooked here) and angular guitar with Woodhead's hyperactive histrionics, to create a twisting, unpredictable five-minutes that makes the occasional dash for the opulence of "Some Buildings". The end result, though diverting, is a slightly uncomfortable mid-point between the two albums. And Life Processes could quite possibly be a transitional album, a first step in a bigger, bolder direction that doesn't quite let go of Give Me a Wall's quirks; only time will tell. For now, though, ¡Forward, Russia! should be commended for broadening their scope and their sound, asking questions of themselves and their listeners in the process, when they could have sat pretty and cemented their position as dance-punk heroes.






Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.


IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.


Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.


NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.


The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.


PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.