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¡FORWARD, RUSSIA! "Give Me a Wall" Mute SNOWDEN "Anti-Anti" Jade Tree

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Friday, December 15, 2006

IN THE NOVELTY-GREEDY realm of indie rock, it's hard to stake a claim to any innovation. ¡Forward, Russia! certainly isn't the first band to play funky punk, or to adopt a name and look redolent of classic communism. (See, for example, Gang of Four, which did both about 25 years ago in Forward's home town of Leeds, England.) This quartet isn't even the first alt-rock combo to number rather than name its songs. (See Sunny Day Real Estate, for one.) So to hell with conceptual poverty -- what distinguishes the group's "Give Me a Wall" is a familiar but always refreshing thing: drive.

These songs, which churn in no particular order from "Thirteen" to "Eleven" and include two parts of "Fifteen," are mostly anxious yet exuberant rockers. Singer Tom Woodhead delivers simple, incantatory refrains ("give me a call," say, or "smite your enemies") in a strained yet supple voice that fits the jabbing, trebly guitar lines. Some tracks work variations on the formula: "Eleven" ends the album because it's the band's equivalent of a power ballad -- think Mogwai, not Bon Jovi -- and the first part of "Sixteen" is a gentle duet between Woodhead and drummer Katie Nicholls, although what follows is thundering. Yet most of the tracks are characterized primarily by jittery propulsion. The "Russia" part of the group's name is just a pose, but the "Forward" is for real.

"We can walk like bullets /And talk like bullets," barks the opening song on Snowden's "Anti-Anti," and "Like Bullets" is nearly vehement enough to justify that vow. But this Atlanta quartet doesn't simply do herky-jerky funk-punk with vaguely aggressive lyrics. Such songs as "Kill the Power" are explicitly political -- "the cities brown with the corporate decay" -- and the album's most distinctive numbers brood rather than bray. "Innocent Heathen" puts an almost-pretty chorale atop a tense slo-mo groove, and "Sisters" is folk rock that drones rather than jangles. Such tracks as "Black Eyes" prove that Snowden can play uneasy funk as well as its peers, but the music is most interesting when the band goes its own way.

-- Mark Jenkins

Appearing Saturday at the Black Cat.

Listen to an audio clip of ¡Forward, Russia!

Listen to an audio clip of Snowden


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