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Russian Circles - Guidance (Album Review)

Thursday, 11 August 2016 Written by Ben Bland

Of all the instrumental rock bands doing the rounds at present – and let’s face it, there are innumerably more than there were 10 to 15 years ago – few have attracted more deserving praise than Russian Circles. ‘Guidance’ is the trio’s sixth effort within a decade, one that has seen them rise in popularity to the extent that they have headlined the festival that has swiftly become Europe’s premier destination for off-beat guitar music: Bristol’s ArcTanGent.

Looking back, it seems fair to say that Russian Circles’ first two albums were most notable for the firework moments: Death Rides a Horse, Harper Lewis, Station. It was only on 2009’s ‘Geneva’ that the band broke into more authentically stately terrain. The adeptly balanced combination of elegance and virtuosic ferocity on display on that record, though, was never quite repeated on its two successors: 2011’s ‘Empros’ and 2013’s ‘Memorial’.

The latter, in particular, felt like it was striving for something at once familiar and yet ethereally distant. It was telling that, a memorable cameo slot from Chelsea Wolfe aside, its finest moments were those that stuck closely to the Russian Circles formbook: the colossal Deficit and the joyous Ethel.

‘Guidance’ is similarly torn. Its predecessor was a clear attempt at expanding their sound but there was little progress made, something ‘Guidance’ seems aware of.

This time around, there is scant evidence that Russian Circles are interested in moving in new directions. The same sense of restlessness that pervaded ‘Memorial’, and arguably ‘Empros’, is present, though. In a way this is a cause for celebration, not least when that restlessness powerfully explodes into life on the record’s most forceful track: closer Lisboa. On the other hand, ‘Guidance’ is, like ‘Memorial’, a somewhat underwhelming first listen. All the normal Russian Circles ingredients are present, but a little of the spark seems to have gone missing.

Then again, ‘Guidance’ really does grow the more time one spends in its company. Eventually, Vorel and Mota emerge as being among the band’s finest pieces of work to date and, as ever, their real strength lies in the interplay between the three individuals.

Mike Sullivan’s guitar playing often draws the majority of the plaudits, but it’s the incredible rhythm section work from Brian Cook and Dave Turncratz that has really made them stand out from the crowd. ‘Guidance’, while testament to the fact that Russian Circles are above and beyond many of their peers, never sees the trio recalibrate their musical relationship in the way that – six albums in – one suspects is increasingly necessary.

It really is hard to put a finger on what Russian Circles could do better, though. This is a band composed of three exceptionally talented musicians who, through no fault of their own, are stuck in an increasingly mundane musical milieu. The world of post-rock (if such a term is meaningful in 2016) is bloated with bands who would happily sacrifice a drummer or a guitarist to be even half as good as they are.

If there wasn’t a slew of lesser acts from across the globe releasing records in a similar vein on a weekly basis, it is entirely possible that Russian Circles’ lack of significant progression or experimentation here would be largely unnoticeable. In the reality of this context, though,

‘Guidance’ can be too easily dismissed as more of the same from a band whose unique instrumental dexterity alone is keeping them away from a series of dead ends.

Russian Circles Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Fri August 26 2016 - MADISON Wisconsin - High Noon Saloon (USA)
Sat August 27 2016 - MINNEAPOLIS Minnesota - Cedar Cultural Center (USA)
Mon August 29 2016 - MISSOULA Montana - Palace Lounge (USA)
Tue August 30 2016 - SEATTLE Washington - Neumos (USA)
Wed August 31 2016 - PORTLAND Oregon - Doug Fir Lounge (USA)
Fri September 02 2016 - SAN FRANCISCO California - Great American Music Hall (USA)
Sat September 03 2016 - LOS ANGELES California - Teragram Ballroom (USA)
Mon September 05 2016 - PHOENIX Arizona - Crescent Ballroom - Phoenix (USA)
Tue September 06 2016 - ALBUQUERQUE New Mexico - Launchpad (USA)
Wed September 07 2016 - ENGLEWOOD Colorado - Gothic Theatre (USA)
Thu September 08 2016 - KANSAS CITY Missouri - Riot Room (USA)
Fri September 09 2016 - CHICAGO Illinois - Metro (USA)
Sun September 25 2016 - DETROIT Michigan - El Club (USA)
Mon September 26 2016 - TORONTO ON - Lees Palace (Canada)
Wed September 28 2016 - CAMBRIDGE MA Massachusetts - Sinclair (USA)
Thu September 29 2016 - PHILADELPHIA Pennsylvania - Union Transfer (USA)
Fri September 30 2016 - BROOKLYN New York - Warsaw (USA)
Sat October 01 2016 - WASHINGTON District of Columbia - Rock and Roll Hotel (USA)
Sun October 02 2016 - DURHAM North Carolina - Motorco Music Hall (USA)
Tue October 04 2016 - ATLANTA Georgia - Aisle 5 (USA)
Wed October 05 2016 - BIRMINGHAM AL Alabama - Saturn (USA)
Thu October 06 2016 - BATON ROUGE Louisiana - Spanish Moon (USA)
Fri October 07 2016 - HOUSTON Texas - Studio at Warehouse Live (USA)
Sat October 08 2016 - AUSTIN Texas - Barracuda (USA)
Sun October 09 2016 - DALLAS Texas - RBC (USA)

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