Russo are, by a long shot, one of the best support bands I have ever seen. Playing with Black Honey at the Electric Ballroom in October 2018, I was captivated by the little of their set I managed to catch – we hit traffic on the way up. Debut EP, House With a Pool, is a pop masterpiece, and tracks from it get played pretty regularly on my headphones or my family’s Sonos. When the band seemed to disappear off the face of the earth shortly afterwards, safe to say it was pretty disappointing. But finally! Returning under front-woman Cailin Russo’s full name this time, brand new studio project, The Drama, is a release that has filled me with surprise and joy in equal measures.
The EP opens on an absolute banger – Declaration. Mixing slow, spaghetti-western guitar, a steady bass-line, and minimalist drums, combined with Cailin’s husky vocal brings an immediate feeling that Lana Del Rey, Pulp-Fiction era Tarantino, and Jack Antonoff all collaborated to make a relatable and depressing teen movie. The chorus is gloriously self-deprecating;
This is a Declaration of a fuck up
A product of how I was raised
And I don’t expect a single teardrop
I am ashamed
With touches of synth added, it feels spacey, somehow trying to escape the reality of whatever ‘fuck up’ prompted this track, but unable to truly escape the past. As the bridge builds with further siren-like synths and declarations of insanity, you’re swept into the emotional instability and turmoil that inspired this EP.
Track two, Fade, feels much more in keeping with glittery current pop, with its quiet verses giving way to choruses that feel made for the BBC Radio summer mixes. Glorifying the worst aspects of the collapsed relationship, it really is just an exceptional example of radio pop. I don’t know how much further I can really go into this track without getting far too nit-picky.
Things pick back up on Sicko. Arpeggiated synths and almost poetically rhythmic vocals open the track (Something vaguely Iambic? I don’t study English, crucify me), leading to a chorus that somehow feels inspired by Prince while sounding absolutely nothing like him. “It’s too good to be true/so I better fuck it up before you do” repeats throughout the choruses, and once again perfectly encapsulates a joyous acceptance of bleakness which runs throughout. If there were one track I’d absolutely get hyped for in a club on this EP, this is probably it. Repetitive vocals and heavy synth with a mood for self-destruction – what more could you realistically want?
You Touch Me I Touch You Back acts like Sicko’s twisted twin. Similar synth lines feel darker, even menacing. A simple beat enforces a strict rhythm, and Cailin’s slightly modulated vocal only increases that tinge of wrongness. The titular line is effortlessly hooky, as is the distorted mid chorus ‘Tell all your friends there’s something in the water/Oh no oh no’, leading into synth lines that provide a sinister, gothic ambience.
Good Bad Decisions has the strongest call-backs to ‘House With a Pool’. It’s the kind of song you’d blast in your car while cruising on hazy midsummer evenings. Filled with stereotypical young relationship imagery as it builds and builds, you’re filled with youthful euphoria and disregard for consequences from the offset. The title embraces that feeling so well and marks a refreshing change of pace.
Closer, No Time, really rounds up the EP thematically and musically. Melding the sinister synth tracks and ‘freer’ guitar cuts, we arrive at a more self-assured and harmonious. conclusion. Bad relationships are discarded, with exes free to ‘lay/dreaming about me/because I move on quickly/and you ain’t coming with me’. In fact, if anything, the early self-destructiveness feels to have resurged alongside greater self-assertion. While perhaps not the most gratifying end to what little narrative arc may exist, its perhaps the most honest and human.
Do I love The Drama like I do House With a Pool? No. Yet at the time of writing, this EP has been out four days, as opposed to two years. Given time, experience, and doing stupid stuff with friends using this as a soundtrack, I’m sure the contest will become closer. I’d absolutely recommend listening to both and seeing Cailin Russo live if given the opportunity. Her energy live is immense and her steadily growing back catalogue is genuinely excellent. Not sure how likely that is given California is her base of operation, but I can dream dammit.