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Russian Circles Geneva Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

Far and away the Chicago band’s most affecting record to date.

Andrzej Lukowski 2009

Back in the dim days of the mid- to late-90s, it was common enough practice for naysayers of the then nascent post-rock genre (generally agreed to be the worst genre name ever, but nobody’s really thought of anything better) to bemoan the amount of time the tunes spent being pretty before arriving at the thunderous crescendos. As these tended to be everybody’s favourite bits, the question was often asked: why wasn’t it possible for bands to make wholly loud records?

The actual answer to that question is rather complicated, though would probably end by pointing to the absurd 65daysofstatic, the Sheffield group who have of late morphed into a sort of post-rock boyband.

But you could also take Chicago’s Russian Circles as a more sophisticated case in point. The trio have actually made a pretty decent fist of putting volume first on their previous records, combining a clean, riffs-up-front approach with a grasp of dynamics that kept the quiet stuff to a minimum without rendering the music lumbering or unsubtle.

Nonetheless, there was always a note of military efficiency to them, a coldness in their heart. While still loud enough to wake up a fair-sized neighbourhood, Geneva brings in strings, horns and just a little more calm; and with all that comes far and away Russian Circles’ most genuinely affecting record.

It’s still tougher than the last few Mogwai albums combined, commencing with the nerve-jangling urgency of Fathom – all heart-attack bass and sobbing feedback – and following with the barely suppressed violence of the title track’s tightly wound guitar figure. But then the songs begin to get longer, warmer and more expansive, and as they do the new instruments work their way to the heart of the music.

Though the extra players are generally used sparingly – the haunted brass that sporadically pierces When the Mountain Comes to Mohammed; the sonorous breakdown on Melee – they allow the band to push on into quite different sonic pastures for the climactic Philos. A blissful ten-minute pulse and flow, the auxiliary musicians rise and dissipate in stately waves as the band rattle below, efficiency traded for something suspiciously close to euphoria.

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