Russian Circles is now 10 years into their career, with six full lengths. An instrumental trio with just guitar, bass, drums, and the very occasional guest vocal appearance. So how do they manage to keep their sound so distinctly their own without making the same album over and over again? Is it just pure musical goodness? Yes, I'm going to go with that.
Guidance is an interesting choice for an album title, given that the cover art is a photo of a man being led to his own execution. Bassist Brian Cook's husband was given an envelope with a series of photos, with no explanation other than the enigmatic line, "I thought you should have these." We don't know if the man is a good guy or a bad guy, a political prisoner or a murderer, but it's hard not to hear a sense of defiance in this record after seeing that image of a man with his head held high, walking to his death.
I did a little more reading about this album than I usually do, but I found it interesting that Pitchfork's take was of a "more bad-ass Russian Circles" on this album, when my initial reaction was that it had some of their most delicate work to date on it. But in reality, it has both. The band has always been masters of dynamics. They don't pound you over the head with exhausting LOUDsoftLOUDsoft grinds like some bands in this genre do (*cough* Explosions in the Sky *cough*). Their swells and fades are well earned and well composed.
|Photos by Caroline Harrison.|
The first four tracks of Guidance merit special attention. They appear to be parts of one musical whole--there's no break between songs until the fifth track--so one's left to wonder if they're telling a story about the man on the cover, or something else entirely. All I know is that those tracks take me somewhere, and it's a place I want to stay. "Asa" is the delicate opener, with a faint tremolo riding over a simple but very effective plucked figure. At times, it put me in mind of Zeppelin's solo guitar works like "Black Mountain Side" or "Bron-Yr-Aur." Before you know it, though, the drums roll in like a thunderstorm and a sweeping riff comes in with "Vorel." "Mota" brings that defiant feeling again, with a very tasty staccato riff and a great moment when the bass steps out, loud and buzzing. "Afrika" rounds out this four-movement tour with cascades of sound and piercing melodies, giving you all the feels you need.
The rest of the tracks deserve this kind of attention, too, whether it's the abrasive dissonance in "Calla" or the doomy intro to "Lisboa," but song-by-song reviews can get tedious. So the bottom line: even if you think you're not a fan of instrumental music, or you have "all you need" with some of their contemporaries, just go buy this. Then listen. Then repeat with all their other albums.