Release Date: Oct 20, 2009
Record label: Suicide Squeeze
Genre(s): Rock, Experimental
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.
The relationship between the calm before the storm and the storm itself is a crucial element of post-rock. The patience and restraint to allow the music to build slowly and organically is an incredible virtue within the genre, and it's a virtue that Russian Circles have been growing into over the course of their career. On Geneva, their third full-length outing, we find a band that has matured as songwriters.
The fuzzed-up finger-tapped intro to ‘Malko’ fills you with anticipation. Something colossal is approaching. But in the essence of anticipation lies predictability, so when the track fails to burst at the seams, it’s a satisfying indication that Russian Circles are confident enough to avoid stuffing their songs with redundant riffs. On Geneva, they keep mouths watering, without listeners feeling sickeningly overfaced.
It may share its name with another second city, but the third LP from the Russian Circles calls to mind a fairly famous quote from one of their hometown's favorite sons. "Chicago is an October sort of city even in spring," Nelson Algren wrote, and Geneva's an October sort of album no matter when you put it on. Geneva feels very much like the city its members hang their hats: rusty and steely and shifty, overcast and a little cold, and-- Algren again-- "battle-colored." It evokes a long early morning's drive down the length of any one of Chicago's city-spanning north-south thoroughfares, blowing through both industrial grit and beatific parkways, eyes peeled for crumbling facades and flashes of chrome and the not-so-occasional pothole.
Instrumental band runs in loops on third album More than most bands saddled with the vague “post-rock” label, Russian Circles effectively pares down its sound to two basic elements: thunderous riffs and tight rhythms. No vocals obstruct its instrumental onslaught—which, on the band’s third album, Geneva, is mighty but repetitive. Each track traces the same loud/soft dynamic, which makes the songs both thematically cohesive and redundant.
Harder but with even more Explosions in the Sky-type finesse than last year's sophomore LP, Station, and yet unable to match the emotional and narrative wallop of still-best 2006 debut Enter, Chicago instrumentalists Russian Circles arrive at neutral ground with Geneva. Opener "Fathom," aria in one channel, subatomic bass burble in the other – all airborne guitar melodics in the center – acts as eerie intro to the gathering swarm of the title track. Drummer/leader Dave Turncrantz's cymbal beat and toms splay, roiling lithe and individual, segue into the stick play of the succeeding 7½-minute "Melee," an atmospheric proto-fugue featuring string quartet accents and a chiming interlude from guitarist Mike Sullivan.