More than twenty years after Gang of Four disbanded, the Leeds music scene is coming back in full swing. Hood, the Kaiser Chiefs and chanteuse Corrine Bailey Rae are just a few of the artists waving the Leeds flag once held by not only Gang of Four, but also the Mekons, the Mission, the Sisters of Mercy, Soft Cell and the Wedding Present. Add to that list Â¡Forward, Russia!, the latest angular post-punk band from England to make NME wet their collective pants. The band is made up of Tom Woodhead and Rob Canning, vocals and bass respectively, former members of the band the Black Helicopters, and Katie and Whiskas, a pair of siblings who play drums and guitar. The music they play will most often be compared to Bloc Party and the band they are most often compared to, Gang of Four, and the likeness is apparent. Of course, Bloc Party claimed never even to have heard of Gang of Four before the release of Silent Alarm, but can the same be said for this new “gang of four” from the band’s own hometown?
Tom Woodhead’s voice can vary between the keening wails of Kele Okereke to the deep and monotonous tones of the Editors’ Tom Smith. It’s a lot more raw and unpolished than the vocals of either of those indie stars, I suppose making it that much more”indie” but it’s sometimes hard to take. Their jagged sound, plus their DIY aesthetic, put them more in a league with Fugazi, or perhaps even At the Drive-In or PiL, but despite these factors, its been done before. The band is in charge of everything about their image and presentation, creating their own label called Dance to the Radio (just like Ian Mackaye!), their own t-shirts and graphic designs (just like Kasabian!), complete with the album’s cover image of the two exclamation marks, one upside down and one in the other direction, and even giving every song a number based on the order in which it was written. It makes it somewhat confusing when discussing songs by the band, as, for instance, their single “Nine” is the fourth song on the album. In fact, the only song that matches its running order is”Eleven.”Aarrgh! Oh well, a gimmick’s a gimmick. At this point, they’ve even given that up as their newest song is called “Don’t Be a Doctor” instead of “Twenty” Que sera sera.
There’s not much to say about particular songs, as each one is as angular and aggressive as the next. There are some exceptions, including “Sixteen,” the eighth track on the album (confused yet?), which features dual vocals from Tom and Katie. Most of the time, however, words are fairly unintelligible, and even when they are made out, somewhat nonsensical. They scream a bit more than their fellow indie-Brit bands, causing mags to call their music “disco-metal,” but really it seems as if Bloc Party just got angrier. “Fifteen,” in two separate parts, tracks three and ten (now you’re really messed up, aren’t you?) do have somewhat more of an aggressive guitar style, making the metal tag a little more apt, but by the time the vocals kick in, we’re back to the angular notes and tense vocals. Rather than the bands mentioned throughout this review, there seems to be an amateur quality to ¡Forward, Russia! This will be charming to some, and even more genuine to others, but why listen to Beatlemania when you can hear the Beatles.
Gang of Four took their name from a quartet of Chinese Communist leaders in charge of the “cultural revolution,” Bloc Party uses the Russian / English spelling taken from Soviet Bloc, and now, of course, this new band from Leeds uses the actual word Russia in their name, complete with Soviet style lettering, and for some reason, the elliptical exclamation marks used in Spanish. (Are there Spanish post-punk Communists?) This all begs the question, is it really revolutionary when you’re following twenty years worth of punk history? I suppose it doesn’t really matter if the music is any good, and ¡Forward, Russia! certainly does their forefathers proud in that respect. Give Me a Wall might not be the most original album you’ve heard, especially considering the last few years’ worth of indie music, but it’s at least worth a listen. If nothing else, ¡Forward, Russia! is a really good imitation of some pretty great bands.
Bloc Party- Silent Alarm
At the Drive-In – Relationship of Command
Gang of Four – Songs of the Free