Against Me! - Russian Spies [7-inch] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Against Me!

Russian Spies [7-inch] (2011)


It's barely been a year since the release of Against Me!'s major label swan song, White Crosses, but the band have certainly been through a lot in that short amount of time. They lost their drummer; found a new one; left Sire Records (their home for almost a half-decade); started their own label; recorded their own version of the One Tree Hill theme song; and toured with everyone from Silversun Pickups to the Dropkick Murphys. Somehow, in the midst of it all, they've managed to record a new two-song EP that is nothing short of fantastic.

"Russian Spies" is a bass-driven rock song that doesn't feel like it would be completely out of place on White Crosses, but it has a bouncier feel and its pace is more brisk than anything on that record. The lyrics have a stream-of-consciousness vibe about them, but seem to be addressing issues more pressing to the world at large than the more introspective White Crosses and the music industry-centric New Wave (2007).

B-side "Occult Enemies" is the catchier and more aggressive of the two tracks here. Its lyrics are simple: "Watch out for occult enemies" is the entirety of the chorus, but it's effective. The short, snappy chorus only serves to complement the verses, which feature some of the gruffest vocals we've heard from Tom Gabel in quite some time.

The two songs collected here are special, as they represent not only the recording debut of new drummer Jay Weinberg, but also some of the last songs recorded at long-time producer Butch Vig's Smart Studios. Weinberg is the youngest musician that's ever been a part of Against Me!, and the effect he's had on the group's dynamic has been interesting, to say the least. He's injected a youthful energy into the band not felt in quite some time, as anyone who's seen them live recently can attest to, and he does the same here. Both "Russian Spies" and "Occult Enemies" are speedier than we've heard from the band since the Eternal Cowboy days, and Weinberg's drums are a key factor in that urgency. Also notable are James Bowman's backup vocals, much higher in the mix here than anywhere on White Crosses. Vig's production feels a lot closer to what he did for the group on 2007's New Wave than his work on White Crosses, which is to say, the guitars are LOUD. This is a rock record, without a doubt.

"Russian Spies" and "Occult Enemies" are another step in the evolution of a band that seems to be constantly changing, but never wavering in quality. In barely five minutes' time, they manage to simultaneously draw inspiration from their storied back catalog without repeating themselves, and hint toward more great things to come. Against Me! have yet to disappoint.