RUSSIAN BATHS – Done And Dead / Rise Again

Russian Baths first appeared on the alternative music scene back in 2016 with a two track release pairing their shoegaze anthem ‘Ambulance’ with the slightly more melodic indie/goth workout ‘Ghost’. It was immediately clear that the Brooklyn based duo were well versed in some great retro sounds, since the tracks conveyed a massive love for Jesus & Mary Chain, as well as slightly more melodic 4AD fare like Cranes and Slowdive. They were the kind of band that older indie fans could take to heart with immediate effect, but although their sounds drew strong links with a shoegaze past, they also seemed like a band who – much like A Place To Bury Strangers – would be able to take such heavily distorted drones seem wholly relevant in the present.

A full length album, ‘Deepfake’, appeared in 2019, and showcased a lot of great material, with the heavy gothic workout ‘Tremble’ and groove laden ‘Wrong’ being particular highlights. A reworked ‘Ambulance’ also showed how much more confident in terms of arrangement the band had become. Without losing too much of its edginess, the track now appeared far deeper, musically speaking; very much the kind of sound that could envelop the unsuspecting listener, proving that good shoegaze sounds never grow old.

Three years on, this two track release presents a different Russian Baths yet again. Although best known for making some brilliant abrasive noises, ‘Done And Dead’ shares a shimmering, clean sounding band. Moving into a pure dreampop landscape, the track celebrates other worldly harmony vocals set against a ringing guitar. Not so much JAMC, but more like The Cure circa 1989, or Smashing Pumpkins amid one of their ‘Mellon Collie’ era trippy workouts, the music is lovely. Said to feature fourteen different instruments, it really captures a band brimming with confidence in the arrangement department, and during the moments where a mournful cello cuts through a sad yet uplifting melody, it celebrates dreampop at its most classic, but also explores chamber pop, light goth and even the less obtuse end of the prog rock spectrum. In short, it’s an alternative classic. There’s no major vocal hook to speak of, and no obvious chorus; this is purely about mood, and in conjuring a slightly transcendental feel, it does a perfect job. More impressively, it does so in a way that it’s hard to imagine long standing fans will feel short-changed, or that the band have in any way abandoned their alternative musical principles.

By employing a heavier beat and a grumbling bass, ‘Rise Again’ comes a little closer to shoegaze, but again, explores new, cleaner musical avenues. During this deep, rhythmic goth rocker, it’s possible to hear elements of a Russian Baths past colliding with the present, especially in the way a partially buried vocal rises from within the music rather than dominating, but as with the previous track, there’s a bigger concession to melody that truly works. More ringing guitar lines add musical texture, but the highlights of this arrangement come from the bass during the second half, as a bottom end sound growls against a rumble of drums, and a slightly distorted guitar is used sparingly, but enough to build up a wall of sound. Again, it’s all about moods rather than hooks, but there are enough layers here to pick out something interesting on each successive listen.

For anyone with a keen interest in past works on the 4AD and Mute labels, this a must hear. The more melodic Russian Baths is an improvement in so many ways, and these tracks showcase a band with a strong ear for a moody melody and a love of a goth rock past that runs so much more deeply than before. It’ll surely leave most people wanting more, but it’s a highly recommended listen.

October 2022