Album Review: Russian Girlfriends – “In the Parlance of our Times”

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A couple of years back, I managed to see Russian Girlfriends open for Red City Radio at a pretty unimpressive venue in Portland, OR that has since been closed. I had never heard of the band before the show, and I didn’t particularly like going to said venue, but alas, there I was. The New Mexican punk rock ‘n rollers impressed me well enough with their swaggering, high energy performance and I thought to myself that there must be something wrong here. Russian Girlfriends was a good band—they were extremely competent, they worked the crowd like industry pros, and they were opening for one of the biggest acts in punk rock at the time. The catch? I hadn’t heard a fucking word about them before that tour. They’d never been recommended, they’d never popped up in any of my many internet conversations with other disaffected scenesters. Russian Girlfriends were effectively off the grid for me, and then there they were: born as a full-grown band with full-grown chops, seemingly out of nowhere.

And now, they’re on A-F Records, perhaps one of the most exciting labels in punk today (also seemingly out of nowhere) and they have an album out. In the Parlance of our Times is a raging, spitting, staggering punk rock album that is as muscular as it is musical. It’s a testament to triplet runs, pick scrapes, and honey and oil high notes. Russian Girlfriends sound like an arena punk rock band—somewhere between ZZ Top, the Bronx, and the chugging melodicism of 90s Epifat. In the Parlance of our Times is all of those things, and maybe even too much of those things—but it’s here, it exists, and whether I like everything it tries to be, it executes it with a level of professionalism and competency that gives even its blandest decisions a sense of conviction.

“Coke” is a hardcore sprint that features some tongue-in-cheek sass (“you’re the reason punk rock is dead!”), a minute long rager that sets the stage not necessarily for Russian Girlfriends’ sound as it does their energy. “Angry Bong Rips” is a more traditional song, featuring a catchy vocal melody and a lot of guitar-centric antics. As far as riffs go, these guys got a lot of them, running power chords up and down the fretboard with leads a-plenty. The vibe is 80s and honestly not too much of a stone’s throw from Skynyrd, but where the influence might not be “cool,” at least it’s different. We can only take so much Replacements, Clash, and Springsteen worship in the punk scene—the palette change is refreshing, if not always to my taste.

The arrangements throughout the album are head-turning and part of the reason Russian Girlfriends feel so fully-formed to me (or pre-packaged, depending on my mood). “White Guilt White Heat” has heavy riffs complete with piercing harmonics as well as a strummed slow-down. Echoes of Interscope-era Rise Against come to mind, which is no bad thing, mind you, but in appreciating the album as a work of art, I can’t help but wonder how they ended up here. There is no evil work at play, I know; their polish is an admirable trait. But—and there’s always a but—it is in the cracks through which we see the artist, and I can’t help but feel like In the Parlance of our Times doesn’t have much in the way of cracks—that it is too tight, too competent, and in effect: void of personality. In less words: it’s safe.

But there’s something to be said for safe. Safe isn’t always exciting, but it can be fun in a comfortable sort of way. Like a well-worn boot or a favorite guitar. Russian Girlfriends aren’t reinventing anything here (Axl Rose or Billy Gibbons, take your pick), but they are banging out expertly conceived tunes with the precise execution of real life musicians. It’s something to behold. It might not change the world, but who knows, maybe it’ll improve your night.

 



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