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Posted June 18, 2007 by Mike Mineo in Features
 
 

The Silent League Continues to Make Enjoyable Sounds

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I would imagine that hanging around Mercury Rev would do extreme justice in molding a musical intellect. Keyboardist Justin Russo was fortunately given that opportunity for quite some time. Possessing one of the largest cult followings of the 90s, Mercury Rev was the epitome of a band who dared to exceed all dull commercialized limits. Whether they presented experimental songs of atmospheric beauty or vaguely catchy melodies reminiscent of the psychedelic shape-shifters of the past, they are a band that carries a definitive legacy. It should comes an no surprise that several of the band’s members also tout successful careers as producers, most particularly bassist Dave Fridmann, the producer of every Flaming Lips release post-Transmissions from the Satellite Heart. Though Mercury Rev emerged two years ago with their sixth album, The Secret Migration, their reputation remains etched in the 90s with several releases that, despite lukewarm sales, echo in time as a blatant influence in regard to contemporary artists.

Justin Russo was never a core member in Mercury Rev. Despite his credible contributions as a keyboardist, Mercury Rev’s main five members are usually remembered as the sole performers in the studio and abroad. While Russo’s name will only ring a bell to the most dedicated of Mercury Rev fans, it appears that his experience on tour with the band and his durability as a revolving member allowed him to truly capture a grasp on what quality songwriting can live up to. While Russo’s newest central musical project, The Silent League, borders on the same delicately crafted moods of intertwined melancholy that Mercury Rev expressed so well, The Silent League is grouped in a category that remains more accessible and directly straightforward. When he formed The Silent League in 2002, Russo appeared to be taking the band in a clear direction. Their debut, The Orchestra, Sadly, Has Refused, expressed a form of ambitious chamber pop, incorporating orchestral elements within songs that, while often structurally unconventional, were infectious pop songs at the heart. Along with a dozen or so collaborating musicians including Interpol’s Sam Fogarino and Mercury Rev’s Sean Mackowiack, the album gave Russo a new and appreciative label. No longer was he known as “that guy who played keys on tour for Mercury Rev.” Finally, he was considered to be an expressively talented songwriter in his own individual right.

Justin Russo and The Silent League plans to release their anticipated sophomore album, Of Stars and Other Somebodies, on June 19th. The difference between their debut and their follow-up is that, while not overly dramatic, is the emphasis on pop music. Of Stars and Other Somebodies is presently the less ambitious of the two, travelling through a flurry of pleasently lighthearted pop songs that are both tender and wholesome. This comparison of equal ambitiousness is hardly fair though, as I am actually discovering Of Stars and Other Somebodies to be the more enjoyable release of the two. The songs are immediately engaging, slow-paced but also full of epic instrumentations that are supplemented by an array of orchestral bursts. Russo’s utilization of keys are natural and expected, though a variety of strings and brass are enjoyable aspects that manufacture both credibility and memorable intentions. The production on Of Stars and Other Somebodies is also particularly favored toward more accessibly elegant chamber pop. It makes sense that Charlie Francis, the album’s producer, has previously worked with the likes of Wilco and R.E.M. The influence garnered from the latter is certainly evident, as Russo recalls slight symptoms of the Michael Stipe vocal technique in several tracks, most noticeably in the twinkling “Kings & Queens.”

My personal highlight on the album is the sincerely unforgettable “Let It Roll.” There will most likely be much critical hype concerning the standout single, “Victim of Aeroplanes”, but “Let It Roll” is truly a song contains some of the most enjoyable songwriting I have all year. The lyrics are immediately heartfelt and honest, with a hook that is uplifted by a beautiful string accompaniment as Russo sings passionately, “I get my coffee up, cigarettes and go, it’s the same old thing. I guess it’s just enough for someone else.” Strings, horns, and keys are a few of the primary instruments implemented in the distinguishable “Let It Roll.” The Silent League currently sits as an eight-piece and with each song, every instrument shines as an individual piece to crafting songs of a remarkably beautiful nature. While their promo shot above depicts melancholy and umbrellas on a dim day, the beauty contained in Of Stars and Other Somebodies can’t help but make me feel optimistic about the things to come for Justin Russo and his talented band.

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The Silent League – Let It Roll

[audio:https://obscuresound.com/mp3/silent-let.mp3]

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The Silent League – Victim of Aeroplanes

[audio:https://obscuresound.com/mp3/silent-vic.mp3]

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The Silent League – Kings & Queens

[audio:https://obscuresound.com/mp3/silent-kin.mp3]

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Mike Mineo

 
I'm the founder/editor of Obscure Sound. I used to write for PopMatters and Stylus Magazine. Send your music to [email protected].