Russian Circles – Station (2008): Review

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Produced by Matt Bayles
Label – Suicide Squeeze/Sargent House

Many critics define Russian Circles music as a mix of Post-Rock and Post-Metal. For the benefit of these hacks, obsessively desperate for a tag, the music of the Chicago 3 piece has been neatly positioned as a fusion genre of two sub genres of a genre. Jesus! When will it all end? It’s nothing more than an instrumental Rock album. Period. Plenty of power chords, long passages of atmospheric themes that build from basic roots (a simple guitar lead or rhythm) and then develop in to something more expansive, building to a musical crescendo using greater instrumental aggression and overdubbing. It’s tried and trusted, and usually leads to a fulfilling musical proposition, the consequence of building a piece of music “brick by brick” to climactic conclusions. Except “Station”, the band’s sophomore release, doesn’t quite achieve its gargantuan intentions. Yes, it’s well performed, doesn’t contain the pretensions of many, doesn’t even drift in to the unnecessary bombast of many, but there seems something intrinsically missing from this performance. Firstly, it lacks the defining instrumental melodies that hook the listener in, and for all the creative atmosphere the band summon up, there’s no great tune bursting out of speakers to grab the attention. Secondly, every song feels like a great, if long drawn out intro to a song that never comes in to fruition. It’s like the musical menu only includes entrée’s, which although occasionally tasty, never fully satisfy the appetite like a main course.

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The opener, “Campaign”, is a perfect example of where “Station” fails to capitalize on its musical ambition. Opening with a backdrop of slowly building feedback, guitarist Mike Sullivan gently introduces an interesting lead which loops naturally as increased layers are added alongside a more powerful drum rhythm which rises and raises the tension, until the moment you’d assume something explosive is about to happen, and then…boom!, nothing happens, and the song just drifts away, leaving the listener frustrated by wilted expectations. “Harper Lewis” partly redresses the balance, crucially carrying melodious jangly guitar lines which mould perfectly with the throbbing bass rhythms and pounding drum track. It’s far heavier, and infinitely better for the metal influences. Indeed, the best moments are when the band deliberately crank it up, as on “Youngblood” and the title track; songs that lift veneer off what feels like deliberate restraint. The rest feels withdrawn, like the band are playing well within themselves, attempting to build a kind of insular intensity that lacks the captivating flourish of a group who are pushing themselves to their creative brink. Some would call “Station” a “slow burner”. For this reviewer, “slow burners” are usually all smoke and no fire.

“Station” threatens to take you the whole way, on an exciting musical journey, but sadly the ticket Russian Circles are handing out is marked “Platform Only”. There’s definitely more to them than this tepid affair.

6/10

Track Listing
1. “Campaign” 6:40
2. “Harper Lewis” 7:15
3. “Station” 8:43
4. “Verses” 8:43
5. “Youngblood” 7:34
6. “Xavii” 4:29

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