Russian Baths is such a special find. They fit snugly into the relatively small cadre of noisy art rock shoe gaze bands that seemed to gain popularity, march right up to the threshold of a potential breakthrough which would also then turn out to be their zenith during a few short years in the late 90’s and early 00’s. Bands like Autolux, Swirlies, A Place To Bury Strangers, Ringo Deathstarr, The Raveonettes and more fell into this group. if there is to be a resurgence of this sound, it remains to be seen. But getting at least one more of these like minded bands in the shape of Russian Baths is a blessing for sure.
Creating an intensely beautiful tension through slightly concerning lyrics amidst a slightly depressive pace, Responder starts off the album. They quickly move into a harder and noisier realm on Parasite introducing glorious squelches of well placed noise that rips through both the quiet spaces they create as well as squatting on top of and in between the crunch of the guitars that drive the song.
Track 3; “Tracks” shines as an amazing and epic shoe gaze anthem. opening with a wall of noise which continues to ebb and flow throughout the duration of the song, Tracks is immense and consuming, creating a wealth of emotions, more than able to give anyone listening uncontrollable goosebumps.
One of the most striking sounds in their arsenal is obviously the battle between Jess Rees’ and Luke Koz’s vocals. Immediately reminiscent of the interplay framing the serene and impossibly cool detachment of Thurston and Kim from Sonic Youth, these vocals also submerge below the overdriven noise only to command a quiet center stage when the noise is removed to bare the skeletal backbeat. A similar comparison can be made in the sound of Isn’t Anything era My Bloody Valentine, before the cacophonous envelopment of Loveless defined their sound and there was still a way to penetrate a far smaller amount of layers by magnitude.
The middle of the album loses the pop and pushes forward into a faster and harder more post punk sound that is instantly welcome as it breathes incredible energy and introduces waves upon waves of noise crashing onto the pummeling guitars. Sneaking in a 2 minute burst of metallic edged white noise in the form of “Detergent” the last third of the album darkens and gets more urgent and desperate working the taut see saw of quiet/loud to magnificent effect. “Guts” closes the album out with an overcast piano dirge tiptoeing through a dense fog of trembling sustained notes and whispered vocals.
Again, this is such a special album that demands time to really appreciate everything that is happening within. a perfect mix of pop music sheathed in noise that muscles it’s way into post punk and isn’t afraid to step on the gas when it needs to, while delivering a crunch of driving guitars all adding up to an understated classic of an album.