The world of instrumental post rock seemed to get awfully crowded for a while and then suddenly everything went quiet. Like so many genres that emerge from the underground, blinking in the sudden glare of the spotlight, instrumental post rock suffered, initially from a burst of misplaced (if well-intentioned) fervour from press and fans alike and then from the inevitable backlash as inadequate acts sought to jump on the bandwagon. That the genre threw up some amazing bands (try Red Sparrowes or Pelican for instance) should go without saying, but perhaps it is time to remind ourselves of exactly how inspirational the genre can be when played by committed, focused and talented individuals. This is where Moscow three-piece Reserve de Marche come in. Formed in 2010, the band spent their first year developing their sound before recording a demo in 2011 (four tracks from which appear, in re-mastered form, here) and finally settling into the studio to record ‘The last twenty years’, an album which comprises three new tracks plus the aforementioned four from the demo.
With plenty of years of experience of playing music under their collective belts, it comes as no surprise that although ‘the last twenty years’ is ostensibly a debut album, it sounds as confident and self-assured as if the band had indeed been active for the last twenty years and with layers of complex sound and melody peppered through the tracks, this is clearly an album that needs to be absorbed, slowly, carefully and free from other distractions. So turn the lights down, pour a glass of something dark red and we shall begin.
The album opens with a light touch in the form of ‘Calorie’, a perfect seven-minute introduction into Reserve de Marche’s beautifully constructed world. Nothing is rushed, the melodies take time to rise, serpentine from the echoing guitars, whilst the pace is held in check by the throbbing bass which envelops the listener like a velvet blanket and keeps you rooted, waiting for the next development. It’s music that ebbs and flows, swirling around you, with the occasional sting of grit as the distortion roughens and the pace builds, and you’re reminded of Mogwai with a lighter touch, or Red Sparrowes if they were inclined to rock out a little more, and the riffs that kick in in the latter stages of the song certainly have teeth. If ‘Calorie’ suggests teeth, then ‘le garage’ is red in both tooth and claw, it’s syncopated riffs and churning ambient effects highlighting the band members’ connection to heavy rock and death metal bands, although melody is never compromised and the tune slowly spreads out to incorporate magical swathes of echoing noise more reminiscent of Sigur ros. The most epic track on offer is the stair-stepping ‘forest of a maniac’ which succeeds in sounding utterly unique from the moment the intro ripples into life until the point, nearly ten minutes later, when it draws to a close. So unique is the sound and the level of inspiration that it’s the shortest ten minutes you’re likely to experience, and it succeeds in both challenging the imagination and lulling you into a far-off world thanks to its hypnotic melodies and stunning guitar lines – imagine a point between Sigur Ros and Neurosis, perhaps with a hint of Bee and flower thrown in, and you’re somewhere close to the wondrous realms that Reserve de Marche inhabit.
Having drawn you heart and soul into their strangely wonderful world, Reserve de Marche have no intention of letting you slip out unnoticed. ‘Iron flow’, a track that brings out Goosebumps with its awkward dynamics and unconventional, Sonic Youth referencing effects, is an album highlight that emphasises a heavier set of dynamics than found elsewhere, and you can only imagine how amazing the song must be in the live arena. Winner of the oddest title, ‘song for hedgehog’ is also the most refreshing song here – an echoing track that is liking standing at the base of a waterfall, the music echoing around, over and through you – it recalls Mogwai at their most majestic and it succeeds in being both regal and somehow uplifting. It is a magnificent achievement. ‘Stephan’s Dream’ is a more suspenseful number, the guitars laden with tension and slightly distorted, the whole building to a furious climax that leaves you drenched in sweat and shaking at the unexpected ferocity of it all. The final track is the elegant ‘Frozen time’ and, as if on cue, whilst reviewing it a monumental storm brewed up which seemed to encapsulate all my feelings about the track’s echoing grandeur far better than words ever could. It as if nature itself has responded to the epic beauty of the band’s music and passed its own judgement, and certainly there is no better analogy for the band’s music than the elemental fear and wonder of an unexpected thunder and lightning storm.
It is undoubtedly the case that Reserve de Marche will appeal to a selective audience, but for those who have listened to, and loved, the innovative instrumental post rock of acts such as Red Sparrowes, Pelican and Mogwai, this is an essential addition to your collection. Brave, beautiful, forceful when needed, ‘the last twenty years’ is a beautiful and worthwhile achievement.