So It Goes; Russian Circles

So, August turned out to be a pretty shit month for me and a lot of people I know. I try not to be one to complain, but…just wow.

Talking about it here, in a (relatively) public forum, may seem to some people like I’m oversharing or not keeping something private that others may not want made public more than it already has been. Not talking about it could imply a rather nonchalant reaction to a terrible situation, which is absolutely not the case.

Ultimately, I’ve decided not to go into it, at least not yet. Maybe someday, I don’t know. Either you know what I’m talking about or you don’t—if we’re friends (virtually, real-life, or otherwise) and you have no idea what I’m talking about, I apologize for being so vague, but feel free to message me on Facebook Messenger or send me an email through the website and I can fill you in. Otherwise, you’ll just have to wait.

In the meantime, I’m going to attempt a return to normalcy the only way I know how. The following post was nearly completed a few weeks ago, before everything went to hell on me. I added a little to it and voila. Enjoy.

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I had a post about 80% done that dealt with my disdain for nostalgia. In fact, it was titled “Death to Sentimentality,” and I railed against all the band reunions that have been happening, and all the reboots/remakes/re-imaginings dominating the airwaves—and that was before I saw the abhorrent mess that is Greatest Hits on ABC.

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When I think of Arsenio’s Dog Pound now, “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan plays in my head.
But I couldn’t finish it.

For one thing, it was a little hypocritical. While I’m not a huge fan of nostalgia, I have to admit that a lot of the music I listen to (in the car especially) is music from my youth—and no, I’m not so old as to predate recorded music, you assholes. Plus, the most anticipated show for me personally to get around to watching is Stranger Things, which capitalizes precisely on that nostalgia to capture some of its magic (seriously, I’ve heard not a single bad thing about it and cannot wait to see it).

Second, the whole notion of complaining about something like that just seemed so…grouchy. So old. So Clint Eastwood from Grand Torino. 

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Or just Clint Eastwood in general.

I don’t want this to be a place where I just bitch and moan—this should be a happy place. My  happy place, and if I’m any good at this, a happy place for you, too. Unless you only come here to read my posts and talk shit about them. Then again, doing that would still make you happy, albeit in a really sick, messed up way…I guess either way, if you read it, we both win.

My point is, rather than piss and moan about what I don’t like, I’m going to talk about new things I find that excite me. Not necessarily brand new per se, but at least new to me, like a 2004 Honda Civic with low mileage, previously owned by a little old lady who only drove it to church on Sundays.

First up: instrumental rock band Russian Circles.

I’ve never been too keen on instrumental rock music, and I’ve come to realize it was because I held a pretty big misconception about it. By that I mean that for the most part I was largely ignorant to what kind of instrumental bands were out there.

The phrase “instrumental rock” brought to mind 60’s acts like Booker T. & The MGs, surf rock like Dick Dale and The Ventures, and the modern-day heirs to the instrumental surf rock throne, Los Straighjackets and The Ghastly Ones. I’m only vaguely familiar with Texas’ Explosions in the Sky, and at the height of my Kids in the Hall fever I even bought a CD by the Canadian instrumentalists Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet. But in the last six weeks or so my eyes have been opened, and I have seen the light.

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Before this, I would’ve guessed Russian Circles was some kind of sex act on UrbanDictionary.com
Russian Circles are a trio from Chicago, currently promoting their just-released sixth album, Guidance. Their brand of music is what is often described as ‘post-rock’ or ‘post-metal’. All that really means to me is that it’s got clear rock and metal influences but isn’t afraid to dip into other genres, or play with dynamics in ways traditional rock bands might not.

Some bands have one or two of what I would consider to be the magical elements: Stellar musicianship, excellent songwriting, killer production. Sometimes just having one of those ingredients is enough to create something really special. Russian Circles has all three. They are clearly near virtuoso-level masters of their respective instruments, they write songs (sans lyrics, no less) that keep from getting pretentious or boring, and their sound is absolutely incredible. The mix is just about perfect—nothing is muddled; each instrument can be heard clearly and easily, and when you’re listening to musicians this talented, you want to be able to hear every note.

A somewhat related tangent (bear with me here): I am really into food and cooking shows (mental note: why have I never blogged about food?). I don’t watch them as much as I used to, but I love Top Chef, MasterChef, Chopped, etc. Watching those shows as much as I have has ingrained in me the following: If you’re going to do something simple, the execution has to be flawless. Doing something simple perfectly takes as much skill as doing something complex, if not more. Russian Circles gets this (see, I told you it was related).

Case in point: the song Vorel, technically the second song off the new album, although the first song is really just an extended intro. Vorel is a lesson in the building and release of tension, and all that tension builds up to a classic metal riff so simple it’s almost hard to believe. But the execution is absolutely perfect, so it actually sounds fresh and new, even though it’s a variation of a fairly standard riff almost as old as metal itself.

Despite being a trio, Russian Circles’ sound is massive, due in part to a few things: the excellent production value, the fact that the guitarist multi-tracks on some songs (which he impressively pulls off live by sampling his guitar parts), and the occasional use of the distorted THUNDER SLUDGE bass tone (the term THUNDER SLUDGE © 2016, used with permission from BooksOfJobe Enterprises, LLC). The bass sounds terrific throughout, but once the distortion is added it takes the entire sound of the band to another level.

I’ve been listening to Guidance practically daily since discovering these guys on KEXP out of Seattle (which, if you’re in the mood for something different, give them a listen—any station that can fit Dead Kennedys and De La Soul in the same set of music gets my respect), but I’ve yet to give much of their first five albums a listen. I have a feeling I won’t be disappointed.

Well, there you have it. I eschewed negativity in favor of raving about something new I’ve found (and I almost forgot the equally impressive and heavy instrumental band Pelican), and I’ve provided you with ten—count ’em, ten!—different links to songs by every band I mentioned, plus the link to the KEXP website, where you can stream the station. So do yourself a favor and click a link or two. Check out something you haven’t heard before, or listen to a band you already know. Just listen to some music. It’s good for the soul, and dammit, you’re worth it.

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