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Russian Circles - Station

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Artist: Russian Circles

Album: Station

Label: Suicide Squeeze

Review date: Jul. 16, 2008

Having come out of nowhere in particular, Russian Circles established a pretty striking presence on the strength of a single album. Enter, their 2006 debut, was uncommonly businesslike in its power and malevolence, never uncertain or ambivalent about its next move. It was assembled from the same minimal parts as any record in the catchall post-rock bin – guitar, bass, drums, no vocals – but Russian Circles managed to shrug off the designation because rock was so obviously not where they were coming from. They were a lapsed metal band, not a rock band proud of its sense of patience. That was part of what was so exciting.

Station is nowhere near so imposing. It’s more like a reconciliation of who Russian Circles were and who they defiantly were not, a split LP where each formation gets three takes to define the word “epic.” That’s commendable in the sense that we hear new range from the trio, new tempos and sentiments. It’s excessive in the sense that they’re proving a foregone conclusion – that they could make totally convincing post-rock if they felt like it. The prettiest parts of Station could pass for early Mono (wide-angle lament “Versus”) or a hybrid of latter-day Explosions in the Sky and Alan Parsons circa Eye in the Sky (stairway to nowhere “Campaign”).

But the other half of the album, the less evolved and more satisfying part, is where Russian Circles do what they’ve done best all along, where the rhythm section hijacks the melody and goes cruising for trouble. Dave Turncrantz is not only a wonderfully lithe drummer but a great conductor as well: the dynamic control he exerts over the wiry arpeggios and shredded riffs in “Youngblood” and the excellent “Harper Lewis” is endlessly pleasing to listen to. The melodies themselves are appropriately sparse and repetitive – they’re metal riffs, not rock themes – and he stops short of suffocating them, integrating them instead into an overarching ebb and flow. Station is linear where Enter was a little devious, which can read like a concession to convention, but in Turncrantz’s tireless hands, and with ruthlessly clean production from crunchmonger Matt Bayles, the machine is a well-calibrated roller coaster of suspense and release.

As a whole, Station works because Russian Circles’ aura of authority precedes it. It’s a lot less singular than its predecessor, but that makes it a more directly exhilarating experience. Second time out and they’ve tapped into the virtue of keeping it real and expanding at the same time. It’s a virtue that most bands lose after a few albums, but Station is too good to worry about that for now.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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