¬°Forward, Russia! - Give Me A Wall

Mike Mantin 15/05/2006

Rating: 4/5

If nothing else, °Forward, Russia!'s debut album will go down in history as having possibly the most confusing tracklisting of all time. It starts with 'Thirteen', before moving onto track 2, 'Twelve', then 'Fifteen Pt. 1' at track three. With this numerical track naming, plus that upside down exclamation mark, on the surface °Forward, Russia! look like they could be the archetypal pretentious art school band whose unlistenable noodling you've had to sit through at bad gigs in tiny rooms. In fact, they're by far the most exciting band in Britain. With overhyped, identical British indie sludge currently clogging up the charts, it's incredibly refreshing to find a band completely deserved of the rapid rise to fame they will very soon achieve.

That said, things are kicking off now: they're currently blowing said indie sludge off the stage at the NME new bands tour and the music press are beginning to sniff out their potential. Give them a couple of years and maybe Q will be onto them. With 'Give Me A Wall' getting a mass release on their own label dance_to_the_radio and guitarist Whiskas already a local hero for promoting and supporting Leeds bands, they personify the DIY ethos more than any other Internet-assisted buzz band, putting two triumphant fingers up to the major-label Man.

That would all mean nothing, though, if they didn't make an exciting and original racket, but boy they do. With the exception of the plodding and forgettable 'Sixteen', every track on 'Give Me A Wall' finds an almost perfect balance between accessible and challenging. They're instantly likebable thanks to their raw energy and memorable hooks, but it's the complexity and detail of the songs, plus Tom Woodhead's truly unique voice, that ensure repeated listenings. As the album fades out to the twisty ADD punk of 'Eleven' to the same riff that opener 'Thirteen' started with, you'll be reaching for the repeat button.

Most of the songs at first seem to consist of undecipherable yelps. It's a bit of a revelation to have the lyric booklet tucked away in the album's nice packaging, really.: previously, 'Twelve' existed to me only as "FU-GE-OO-AH-ANA-E-FAW-U-A FU-GE-OO-AH HE WAS AN EDUCATED MAN!!". It's actually about Einstein, apparently. But impenetrable lyrics really aren't a problem when you're faced with such a varied set of music, almost every track dense and memorable. There are, however, two tracks which are truly spectacular. Previous single 'Twelve' is just over two minutes long but packs an enormous post-punk punch thanks to the Woodhead's energetic shouting and Whiskas' lighting-fast guitar work.

At the other end of the scale is 'Nineteen', the closest they will probably ever come to a ballad. A catchy synth line hovers over this soaring song, and though the lyrics are still impossible to decipher, Woodhead still puts a huge amount of emotion into his voice. The stacatto drumming only tops it off. I'm guessing that since it's got the largest number, it's °Forward, Russia!'s most recent song, and if they continue this songwriting streak, my premature proclamation of them as one of Britain's current most exciting bands will be confirmed. Here's to 20 and beyond being equally brilliant.