Wednesday, 10 November 2010
THE RUSSIANS - Crashing The Party
The name Janovitz is almost synonymous with the Boston music scene. Paul Janovitz achieved cult success in the 1990s with his college rock band Cold Water Flat, while his older brother Bill became rather more famous as frontman and chief song writer for alternative rock heroes Buffalo Tom. Their brother Scott has been in various bands too – most notably Dragstrip Courage – in addition to producing records for other bands and being a sideman to Graham Parker.
Scott Janovitz also has a power pop collective, The Russians, which features a revolving cast of collaborators. After a couple of well-received EPs, in 2010’s full-length ‘Crashing The Party’, The Russians deliver a subtle disc that’s full of retro pop/rock melodies, though not always in the usual feel-good power pop mould.
The album opens with a slow number with Janovitz proudly stating ‘The Record’s Over’, where accompanying the downhearted vocal, there are great moments of electric piano, swirling organ and fuzzy guitars. This track name-checks the Beach Boys and references their song ‘Do It Again’, but despite this, is certainly not full of the usual attention grabbing jollity which would often open an album full of 70s pop influences, but the swirling, almost psychedelic vibe could still pull you in. There’s also mention of ‘student demonstration time’, though I’m not sure it’s in reference to the much maligned Beach Boys number of the same name... ‘Not So Loud’ has a bigger hook, though it’s still a world apart from the instant gratification provided by bands like Jellyfish or Farrah, since here, The Russians trade in the usual power pop obsessions with Wings and 10cc, favouring bouncy electronica influences instead. Imagine Brendan Benson meeting with The Cars and then performed by Tubeway Army with a mid-70s glam stomp and you’re about halfway there.
Featuring harmony vocals and chiming guitars reminiscent of Big Star, ‘You Know’ provides one of the stand-out numbers. While those harmony vocals are rather understated, the guitars lend a timeless quality. Granted, the hook may not be as instant as those delivered by The Russians’ most obvious contemporaries, but the approach here is typical of the album’s best moments. It’s a slow-burner of a track which requires multiple listens before the magic becomes obvious. With another stomping approach, heavily treated vocals and a nod to T Rex, ‘Make It Easy’ offers an uptempo rocker. Beneath the slight distortion there are layers of keyboards, a big ‘woo-hoo’ styled vocal, rock ‘n’ roll piano fills and a shameless guitar solo. The distorted elements make the vocal rather hard to decipher, but even so, this track breaks up the more reflective moments of the album rather well, even though it’s one of the more disposable numbers. With a strong focus on acoustic guitars played in 90s alt-rock style, ‘Measure Out Our Space’ shows a more organic side to The Russians. The harmonies used so well on ‘You Know’ make their return – and in doing so, they help this number remain fairly buoyant.
‘Talking To Yourself’ features a bassline which is high in the mix during the verses, but it’s the chorus and instrumental parts which grab the attention, having a very Posies-esque vibe. Since it’s such a great sound, it’s a pity the hook wasn’t a bigger one. The title track has similarly understated moments, as a warm bass line weaves its way through a very 60s arrangement. The laid back vocals here are perfectly suited to the equally laid back groove. The ubiquitous power pop sleigh bells put in an appearance here, but not in a quirky fashion. This is melancholy power pop at its finest – a perfect companion to Oranjuly’s ‘The Coldest Summer’ or Chris Bell’s ‘I Am The Cosmos’.
‘Crashing The Party’ may not be as instant as some power pop releases since, in places, it has a tendency to be downbeat. If you’re into the more thoughtful and melancholic approach to power pop though, this album can represent a very rewarding listening experience.