We Stood Like Kings ~ USSR 1926

Cover_ussrWe Stood Like Kings steps one year deeper into the past with its latest release, the follow-up to Berlin 1927.  Like that release, the LP is a new score to an old film, this one being Dziga Vertov’s Russian classic A Sixth Part of the World.  The film is 74 minutes long, the score a minute longer, making it difficult to match at home, so we recommend catching the band on tour.  There’s a beautiful version of the closing track on YouTube (shown below), which demonstrates that the band knows what it’s doing.  These black-and-white images are timeless, and the new score greatly enhances the cinematography.  A prior Michael Nyman score was pretty, but not powerful; it certainly lacked the thick crescendos of “Volchovstroy”.  Here the unrest is clearly felt, the scent of revolution in the air, the soullessness of industrialization and the quiet beauty of animal care.

wslkpromopic4(c) Aniss HamdiJudith Hoorens’ piano is a constant presence, the soul of the band and the heart of its soundtracks.  The album’s repeated themes are instantly recognizable when she enters, anchoring the set with a unified tone.  Electric bass, guitar and drums round out the quartet, which can at times sound much fuller due to its instinctive playing.  By design, the band must be tight; there’s no room for error when accompanying a live screening.  Extra credit also goes to the choice of films, which bring to light forgotten gems rather than popular classics.

Movie PosterThe differences between the new album and the band’s debut are subtle.  On USSR 1926, the highs seem higher and the lows seem lower, as the band discovers new emotional heights and depths.  The album also succeeds as a set apart from the visuals.  Although cinematic in nature, and thus suggestive of a score, the new album operates just as well as a sonic suite.  Those unable to see the film can still share in the experience by taking the album for a long stroll or drive, or allowing it to be the soundtrack for a book.  (We suggest an exciting novel, and yes, this has been tested in our media library.)

While the album flows beautifully as a whole, it does offer at least one possible single, the four-minute “Downfall”.  Everything else is in the six to ten minute range, and the tracks blend into each other without silences.  This selection begins with powerful drums and ends in cacophonous guitars, with the piano playing throughout: a compact summation of the band’s talent and energy.  Otherwise, it’s hard to identify highlights, as the album is really a 75-minute post-rock song, lacking only a long post-rock title.  If pressed, we’d go for the crushing “Are you a master too?”, but even that track is set up by the advancing piano line that closes “Siberian Taiga”.  By the end, the piano is playing as hard as any guitar.  The huge melodic riff of the opening repeats at various times throughout the production (for example, the closing minutes of “Kremlin”), and each time, it’s a welcome return.  The same can be said for the band, who seems set for a long career of accumulating acclaim.  (Richard Allen)

Release date:  30 October

Available here

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