There are albums that can comfortably be put on shuffle and enjoyed as a collection of standalone tracks. Conversely, there are albums that practically demand the listener sit down and experience them in their entirety, front-to-back, to truly appreciate the work that’s gone into them. Such is the case withMemorial, the fifth studio album from Chicago trio Russian Circles. A sprawling, textural slab of instrumental post-metal,Memorialsees the band at its most ambidextrous – placing the big, bleak riffs of ‘Deficit’ side by side with more fragile moments like ‘Cheyenne’.
“It’s something that we’ve always been interested in,” says bassist Brian Cook about the musical contrasts found throughout Memorial.
“It’s a tricky line to walk, because I think a lot of times you can overdo the sentimental balladry, or completely out-of-context heaviness. We try to make records that are interesting, so we like that juxtaposition. I think it’s really important for us to make a record that’s satisfying, dynamic and diverse. It’s an ongoing search to find that balance.”
Indeed, finding that balance is a continual negotiation throughout Memorial, an album that, with carefully linked intros and outros and tracks as long as seven minutes, feels like it was crafted specifically to be heard as one large, multi-headed piece. Cook explains that fragments and ideas are built into the final product – Russian Circles record on a song-by-song basis, but make sure their albums work in a larger, more cohesive context too.
“I think we’re – as a band – so used to thinking of music in the album format. We’re obviously not a band that writes singles. We spend a lot of time making one cohesive, larger scale piece, and we want to make it something that’s kind of an experience. It’s intended to be listened to beginning to end. Having the bookended songs was part of that whole process of tying everything together. To me, it kind of works in that it makes the album feel cyclical.
“I don’t want to tell people who like our band how they’re ‘supposed’ to listen to the record,” Cook adds. “Some people just like specific songs, and some people like listening to the record on shuffle – I think that’s cool too, but I think part of the way we do things is to encourage people to listen to it front-to-back as one large piece.”
Achieving that level of cohesion was part of a recording process that focused far more on experimentation than before. Cook says in previous Russian Circles recording sessions, time was scarce – they’d rehearse and rehearse, before having to go in and “crank things out” as quickly as possible. It was a stressful way of working.
“Now, it’s a very different situation. We go into the studio, we have a little bit more time, and I think we’re less interested in how complex we can make something in terms of cramming a bunch of notes together. We’re more interested in how we can have a record with a lot of different tones and timbres and moods. It’s definitely more the stress of finding the right texture that we want, as opposed to gymnastics of writing technical riffs.”
Nonetheless, Cook says the test is now transferring the studio material to the live environment successfully – something Australian fans will witness firsthand on Russian Circles’ national tour. For Cook, it’s less about replicating recorded music and more about continuing to experiment.
“We like the idea that a song can evolve from the studio to the live setting.”