No Shouts, No Calls
In physics terms, a sound wave has four things that define it: attack, decay, sustain, release. I'm sure there is more to it, but I' m using physics as a metaphor rather than actual phenomenological number crunching. Anyway, if this can be exploded out to style, a band's sound if you will, then most bands have some permutation of attack, decay, sustain, release that embody them. I'm not saying every band has a blueprint which they are doomed to follow, but there is something at their sonic DNA that defines what they do.
Brighton's Electrelane has a DNA that looks something like this:
a quick attack, minimal to no recession from the attack's apex, the steadiest flat line development that can be executed by humans and a quick, resolute release. This is also the telltale signature that much of Krautrock exhibits, one of their most obvious stylistic influences, but were my MS paint skills more than they are, I would have rendered the background with soft wood grains, the lines fuzzy and comforting, the angles contoured like the hips of a tight-cardigan-wearing co-ed clutching The Portable Kierkegaard at her bosom. In other words, I have an enormous, consuming crush on the music Electrelane produces. I described it to some friends as a melancholy balm on my troubled soul, but I think that misstates things a bit. Electrelane has near to no melodrama in them whatsoever, just the succession of perfect riffs executed in logical organic yet mechanical progressions in brackets that precisely fit their welcome. There last record Axes, on of my favorites of the year was a touch more agro than this missive, but while the claws have been trimmed, their wings are anything but clipped.
"The Greater Times" comes in with steady keyboard drones over a locomotive twinkle of guitars, and is in its simple way, is perfect. This song gets wedged in my head and pushes every other song out of it path. "You say you don't know what love means anymore" is how it starts before they quickly get to "tearing down these walls, these walls, these walls!" There is nothing revolutionary about what they are saying, how they are saying it, yet it is positively glorious. Each song that comes after it has this quality to some extent, but "The Greater Times" right this moment is my song of the year.
Looking for markers, there is a strong strain of that Explosions in the Sky Fourth of July fireworks melancholy and a very string component of Shadowy men from a Shadowy Planet. "After the Call" not only borrows the guitar tone but the melody wholesale from SMfaSP's Kids in the Hall Theme but I don't actually care. That is one of those themes that made me happy every time it came on, as does this song. "Tram 21" is Farfisa powerpop in excelsis domni ad infinitum por favor - like if Autobahn had been concocted by the bookish outcast girls I longed for in high school. Tight, as they say.
Lets be frank, Electrelane is formulaic stuff, but like most great dictators of my heart, their plan is a good one. Come right through the gates, here's the keys. "At Sea" comes on quiet as a breeze and brings in Stereolab, Philip Glass' opera mediations and Sir Douglas Quintet all in one intricate ice capade of a show. "Between the Wolf and the Dog" is the thrash side of this very equation, replacing Stereolab for Gang of Four or Fugazi maybe, and Sir Douglas for Tommy Iommi.
When the ukuleles and tambourines (! Is that really what that is?!? Really, this song is like the first time you see a girl jump a hill on a BMX bike.) Come sauntering in on "Cut and Run" I was already in love, but I'm in deep infatuation. This band is so good, so good. It's like they take all the parts of Yo la Tengo that you like and buff them down to the primer. 'The Lighthouse" tears in with its Philip Glass piano tornado and drums that pound away like they are played on a raceboat, diving into quiet moments of contemplation and than back into adrenaline glory, all with the same economical riff. I'm so in love with this record right now I might fight you over it. You will love this record the same way, how could you not? Physics is on their side.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com
The Review of the Year of Things #1: Jason Lewis surveys the years' great albums and noting so many, compartmentalized, as men do. So, here, albums by those so profoundly impacted by Death