Thursday, April 19, 2007

electrelane - no shouts, no calls

I was a little surprised when, in 2005, Electrelane released the lovely but unexpected sidestep that was their largely instrumental 'Axes'. It was a strange yet brave way of following their marvellous 'The Power Out', a sophomore record which brilliantly combined the krautrock pulse of their debut with Steve Albini's brilliant, menacing production and vocals by turns dismissive and swoonsome. This time - their new record, the wonderful 'No Shouts, No Calls' is out next week - they've made something more like the album I was expecting back then - a unique, subtle album with thrilling arrangements and an ear for pop which I was worried they'd discarded. It's a brilliant album, at times sensational.

Electrelane continue ploughing their individual furrow, getting better and better. All the key signifiers of their sound are present and correct - the spare bass and drums, slight guitar and piano melodies which sparkle amidst the gloom, and keyboards which hum and throb. Best of all are the vocal arrangements, where Verity Susman's slightly flat but endlessly interesting voice swoops and sighs, circling round Mia Clarke's harmonies like seagulls over a pier.

'To The East', the first single, is classic Electrelane; teardrop guitars, Moe Tucker drums and keyboards echoing under Verity's wavering falsetto. There's no Albini at the helm this time, but they've learned a lot from him - drums are kept sparse and pulse-like, space opening up under the harmonies. There's more confidence in Verity's voice too, although she continues to sound like she's singing just off-mic, almost as if she's rehearsing the take. Some people really can't take her voice, I know - but it's about my favourite in the game at the moment.

Two tracks really stand out. 'In Berlin' - the album was recorded there - is just amazing, riding in on an electric piano intro and brushed drums. When the beat steps up a gear the song begins to soar, Verity and Mia's operatic vocals mingling with a sudden, unexpected string section. It's one of a few moments on the record where the band build up a ethereal drone reminiscent of Slowdive or early Lush, but it's done not with guitar pedals or effects, just by meticulous arrangements. Amazing.

'Saturday' is even better. It starts with a delicate guitar intro. "I've got a photo from a long time ago", Verity sings "Put it in your pocket, hold it in your pocket", Mia replies. "I've got a ring that my grandmother gave to me", Verity sings back, inviting Mia's "Wear it on your finger, wear it on your finger". Suddenly the drums double their pace and a heartbreaking four note piano line appears from nowhere, making every hair on my neck and arms clamber to its feet.

The only other record I can recall as delicately arranged and finely tuned in recent years is the similarly restrained debut by The Good, The Bad and the Queen. Yet Electrelane rock like bastards at times, too - the joy is in discovering which element, at which point, they decide to conceal or reveal.

At their best, they are a band of an extraordinarily high standard - one of the best in the world right now.

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