Russian Blood from Boston

When you hear or read somewhere that an artist recorded his album in his bedroom, you’re probably thinking his songs are “chill-wave,” “lo-fi,” “dreamy,” or something along those lines. RIBS frontman Keith Freund recorded his band’s sophomore EP Russian Blood in his bedroom, but the EP itself sounds like it was produced for a much bigger space, like a ginormous concert hall, or the moon.

According to the band’s local publication The Boston Phoenix, RIBS (the band’s name should be spelled with capital letters only) is “rock’s great new hope.” Music nerds have read the quote everywhere, but what does it mean? Well, it means that the rock age isn’t over yet, and with the existence of a band like RIBS, rock can indeed make its comeback, past today’s hyped indie stardust and “bedroom” tunes. (Keep in mind, though, that by all technical definitions, the band is indie: They are unsigned, self-managed, self-produced.)

RIBS is Keith Freund, Blake Fusilier, Justin Tolan, and Chris Oquist. The four Bostonians have been playing music together for a few years now, having released their first EP, British Brains, in the summer of 2008. The release triggered a bit of social media magic, striking big on the platform Reddit, where users deemed the EP as “fucking awesome,” and “what commercial radio music should be if anyone really gave a shit.”

Considering the band’s public success with British Brains, it was clear that Russian Blood would be a tricky follow-up with lofty expectations.

Russian Blood (released May 29) is signature RIBS, showcasing a broad rock sound with minimal outside help in terms of production. When lining the band’s two EPs up against each other, the old EP hosts five longer tracks, and the new one boasts seven songs with more variation in mood, plot, length, and instrumentation. It is a movement forward. Compared to its predecessor, Russian Blood is a release that’s not as crazy and frustrated; Freund’s writing seems more pensive and emotional. And while the new EP doesn’t really feature a wild and crazy track like the previous EP’s “Transversal,” it does include two songs with vocals from RIBS bandmate Blake Fusilier, whose voice really adds a lot to the record, sounding something like a young Lenny Kravitz or TV On the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe.

The first highlight on the EP is the single, “Kiss,” a fierce song about a past, failed love that never really evolved or blossomed. Freund sings about a girl with personal problems and relationship issues who “slip[s] away unfazed,” all while he’s trying to ascertain what it all means. The song pushes forward with grinding guitars and fast, pounding drums before it spaces out atmospherically at its ending, where it seems like Freund comes to terms with the present situation: “In a fog / In a dream / You’re in the clouds / You won’t come down / I’m out of touch / We’re out of time / You got your kiss now where’s mine?” The song’s a strong single with a lot of subtle background noises that slowly emerge with more listens.

One positive thing about releasing EPs is that there doesn’t necessarily have to be a long and drawn-out flow that a full-length record usually has. EPs can have more flexibility in terms of presentation. That said, Russian Blood really holds other songs that could serve as singles. “Gateway Drug,” “Alarms,” and “Destructo” are all songs that can stand on their own with catchy, driving refrains.

“Gateway Drug” is the powerful Fusilier written and sung song that somehow manages to incorporate multiple guitar parts, diverse vocals, piano, belting and soulful vocals with a bunch of sexy rock-like “oohs.” Even with a mid-point piano/vocal interlude, the song never really slows down…it just pushes, and pushes, and pushes.

“Alarms” is the EP’s most “popular”-sounding track in terms of its structure, with a basic introduction and focused lyrics that erupt into the signature RIBS swooping and grinding guitars and a thought-provoking chorus. The guitars in “Alarms” sound like they could be synths, but beware: “No synths or keyboards were used in the recording of Russian Blood. All synth-like sounds were created using layered instruments (bass, guitar, vocals) in combination with distortion, delay, reverb, and other effects,” the band says on its press release. “Alarms” can be interpreted as a “man vs. world” song that on the surface talks about today’s world and how, when one does make an effort to make a difference, it can become an overbearing and futile fight.

“Destructo” is the EP’s song that brings a new sound to the mix. Freund revisits the relationship in “Kiss” and gets right into it, going over the sad details of dissatisfaction in the said relationship, looking back and hitting it hard at the song’s hook: “How dare you tell me that I never cared / I wish you’d just say what I want to hear.” The track’s Strokes-like guitar riffs and breathy vocals are what makes it memorable, and both things really come together on the chorus; it’s like Freund has some kind of his own “hit” formula that he applies to songwriting, something like Rivers Cuomo’s Encyclopedia of Pop. Who knows what Freund’s up to in his bedroom while recording (hah), but he must have some kind of writing process that encourages such individually unforgettable songs.

The other EP tracks not yet mentioned are “Mercury,” “This Is Real (Kiss Reprise),” and “I Don’t Think.” All three tracks fit nicely in the EP. “Mercury,” track one, accurately opens the collection of songs for listeners, giving them a taste of the “RIBS” experience with a zoom in/zoom out production. “This Is Real (Kiss Reprise)” flatters the song “Kiss” pleasantly, emphasising the last parts of its mother track and stretching out the most poignant moments. “I Don’t Think” confirms in the listener’s mind that Fusilier can sing some really lovely songs.

To combine all the Reddit reviews in an attempt to sum up the band: If RIBS could somehow be the top-40 radio rock standard that we hold on to today, the world might be a better place.

By chance, but perhaps not, there’s a recent press photo of the band grouped together in Freund’s room, sitting against the wall below a hand-painted quote, “Spread the feeling that our best days are not behind us.”
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–Jen Brown

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