Electrelane The Power Out

[Too Pure; 2004]

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

They say that variety is the spice of life. If that's the case, then the life led by the ladies in Electrelane must be far from bland. This album boasts songs in four languages (English, French, Spanish, and German), lyrics by a war poet and a philosopher (Siegfried Sassoon and Friedrich Nietzche, respectively), virtuoso piano and sax, a full choir, and more tempo changes in one song than some unadventurous indie bands have attempted in their entire career.

The band's last album (Rock It To The Moon) consisted largely of instrumentals, but this time around, there are only two; Electrelane are widening their range and effortlessly switching genres. A couple of the early tracks are reminiscent of other artists: "Gone Under Sea" chugs along very nicely like Stereolab in one of their early, rawer incarnations; and "On Parade" evokes Rid of Me-era PJ Harvey, not surprising considering that man Albini is at the controls. The album really takes off into a whole new orbit of its own with "The Valleys," a lament sung by what sounds, aptly enough, like a Welsh male voice choir. The fact that they're actually from Chicago does not detract from the emotional impact of this amazing composition, which comes at you so unexpectedly the first time you hear the album, you have to pinch yourself. They continue with this eclectic approach -- later on we get twanging guitar solos ("Take The Bit Between Your Teeth"), slick piano playing ("You Make Me Weak At The Knees"), and even a number which manages to fit a wailing sax into the breakdown of a Ladytron-style electroclash workout ("Only One Thing Is Needed.")

There's a lot of great stuff on here, but of course it's not flawless. After the invigorating opening tracks, the second half of the album tails off slightly. Albini's production suits the music very well, giving it a widescreen feel. But you get the feeling that sometimes he should play more of a producer role rather than just a top-rate engineer, asking for more from the band (this obviously goes against his whole ethos, but that's not the point). Occasionally, the vocals are not great. For example, on "Enter Laughing," along with other times, it sounds like the band are treading water when you feel they could be walking right over it. Still, this is a very good album; the sheer ambition of it is staggering at times and you can't help feeling that Electrelane are on the right trajectory. The next one could be a classic.

1. Gone Under Sea
2. On Parade
3. The Valleys
4. Birds
5. Take The Bit Between Your Teeth
6. Oh Sombra!
7. Enter Laughing
8. This Deed
9. Love Builds Up
10. Only One Thing Is Needed
11. You Make Me Weak At The Knees

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