Electrelane Axes

[Too Pure; 2005]

Styles: indie, krautrock, experimental
Others: Stereolab, Pram, PJ Harvey

Like a big "fuck you" to anyone who thought that The Power Out might have been signaling a more accessible progression for Electrelane, Axes thumbs its nose at pop convention. Coming off 2004, a year of expanded notoriety resulting from some well-deserved critical praise and a few gigs opening for Stereolab, there will be those who decry this raw, sputtering, more instrumental album as a step backward. Such commentary is missing the point.

Without doubt, the comparison with Stereolab is a major source of the problem. Electrelane's core sound is driving, droning, kraut-inspired rock complemented by female vocals often somewhat buried in the mix, a sound that more than once has been described as "Stereolab-esque." Expecting the band to swim into more pop friendly waters is an unfortunate side effect of this similarity. Instead, Electrelane are probing more deeply the creation of their own sonic territory. This is obviously a band that enjoys the loose, desperate, and dissonant qualities of rock more akin to Sonic Youth, or at least live Stereolab, than any polished form of pop. "Gone Darker" (complete with skronking sax and a train whistle) and "If Not Now, When?" build into freewheeling frenzies which collapse rather than end cleanly. The raucous appropriation of the Leonard Cohen standard "The Partisan" is born out of the maelstrom of "Those Pockets Are People" in a way that casts their take on the song as inevitable and exciting.

Still, there are moments that may appeal to those looking for material more like The Power Out, particularly two early numbers, "Bells" and "Two for Joy," as well as "I Keep Losing Heart" which provides an interesting respite of banjo, brass, piano, and choir vocals near the close of the album. But really, every track on Axes offers something exciting for those who care to listen. Electrelane won't be pinned down to any single sound or career trajectory, and I for one applaud that.

1. One, Two, Three, Lots
2. Bells
3. Two for Joy
4. If Not Now, When?
5. Eight Steps
6. Gone Darker
7. Atom's Tome
8. Business or Otherwise
9. Those Pockets Are People
10. The Partisan
11. I Keep Losing Heart
12. Come Back
13. Suitcase

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