With Geneva, Chicago’s Russian Circles have come through with another record that explores volume, pace and sound in unique fashion. Possessing a quality that lacks pretention and strives for pure sonic perfection, the Circles are one of the rare driving forces in post-rock that manage to keep things relatively simple while unfolding enormous, striking landscapes of composition.
Geneva is no exception. Out now on Suicide Squeeze with production by The Secret Machines’ Brandon Curtis, it is an expansive but succinct record. There is steady momentum to each of the seven tracks, with force and power and precision infused throughout. There is not one wasted movement, nor is there one inapt strum of Mike Sullivan’s guitar.
If there was something “wrong” with Geneva, it may be that the whole thing sounds a little too refined and a little too immaculate. Every drum fill from Dave Turncrantz is aggressively perfect and every urgent tapping of bass from ex-Botch bassist Brian Cook is on point.
Is there a point at which post-rock loses its humanity when played like this? Or is that the point of post-rock to begin with? The purity and deep exactness of a record like Geneva will never match the flawed glory of some of rock’s greatest records and it will never possess that ultimate quality that makes music such an emotional experience.
Even so, as the towering notes from the brilliantly-crafted “Melee” hit my ears I couldn’t deny an eventual emotional response. It’s not like the rabid fury I experience when I listen to Dylan’s “Masters of War,” nor is it like the passion and blood I hear when I listen to Waits.
But it is something, isn’t it?
Perhaps Geneva is more like gazing at a gorgeous landscape or staring at the stars. There is something instinctively perfect about our experiences with nature and something awe-inspiring in understanding how little we, as humans, have to do with how the mountains look or how the sky appears on a crisp, dark night.
And so it is that Geneva is like peering up at the stretch of the universe: ultimately inexplicable and inaccessible and yet, at the same time, extremely emotional and dreadfully stunning.
Listen, for instance, to the twinkling loop that begins “Malko” and urges it into the song’s groove. As the piece grows into its own, it is a heap of guitar, bass and drums spilling over one another to get to the surface like molten forces building a volcano. Powerful and yet elegant, “Malko” is an ideal testament to the detachment and authority created by the Russian Circles.
The use of brass instruments on “When the Mountain Comes to Muhammad” gives the trio a slightly different alignment, providing a voice to the introverted music without proving overwhelming.
Overall, Geneva is a commanding example of faceless, spotless post-rock music. It is arresting, dominant and downright fundamental in form, but it lacks the decisive humanity that makes it a truly relatable piece of art. While the Russian Circles certainly provide a marvellous experience with Geneva, as they do with every record, they still remain just out of reach on that most human of levels.