Recorded: Electrical Audio, Chicago, IL, April-May 2003, w/ Steve Albini
Released: Feb. 3rd, 2004
Label / time: Too Pure, 43m 22 sec.
Featuring: Emma Gaze (drums), Rachel Dalley (bass), Mia Clark (guitar), Verity Susman (vocals, keyboard, guitar, sax)
Let me begin near the gig's end, with the tune "Only One Thing Is Needed". Little sprigs of farfisa fade in, brightening a still echoing stage, a light titter pushed by steady drone. You can almost see the smoke wafting across a single spotlight dousing the organ in blue-green glare, along with a knowing smirk curling the edges of the keyboardist's cheeks. You want fever pitch, she smiles, the crowd nodding back. The pace picks up, undercut by a slick mellotron pulse: fast, faster, faster still. Some smug keener in a jean jacket with band buttons is whisper-yelling knowingly into some poor bastard's ear, "Begins a bit like a Neu! song! Like all of them" - but before he recants that half-wit, the band's already moving on to something far more distinct. Crunchy guitars cut in, with the tempo hitting a steady speedboat-against-the-breakers rhythm. Ms. Gaze, the drummer, is hyper-attendant to her work, eyes like saucers. On this basement bar floor, the tap of toes spreads fast like a flood.
Now they're getting somewhere. The four women eke forward on stage, getting a better vantage. The chorus comes down, and rather forward, like a smoky drawl. Someone will be made someone else's - and soon. The lead vocalist, Verity, is all alight and eager. A little Nico dislocated, a lot of cabaret aloof. Had the Go-Go's been born in misty Brighton rather than LA, called themselves the Deitrichs instead, had better keyboards and went in more for German romanticism and Andalusian sonnets than shopping and surfing – bit of stretch? Nein. And this is in just the first minute and a half. Everyone is soaking up the red lights, walls thrumming, frontline of the crowd at stage giddy with reverb. Chorus done - we're on the move again, a caterwaul of guitar. Three minutes along, a wailed solo of saxophone - that seems to reawaken the endeavour and impel the affair into its conclusion, the whole group seeming to latch onto a 100 extra atmospheric volts and are suddenly rattling along. People break into grins, in spite of themselves and all their gear. Now that's a song.
And what does all this sound like coming together on a recording? Imagine down the street, there exists a bowling alley, with a secret basement of lanes, set up with strobes, laser light, fog machines. Imagine the grinning kids at this midnight bordello have access to a jukebox that blares over a dozen tower speakers. This song sounds a bit like if a well-after midnight sock hop just broke out in such a place. Not dissimilar to the frenetically building rush of the album's opening track, "Gone Under Sea", this tune knocks the teeth out of many a proto-punk outfit from this of the pond, with twice the esprit to spare. Each song has its own distinct arc - but this one has transfiguration. From lackadaisical blur to almost ecstatic frenzy, replete with Gallic croon, a wash of guitars and many an Ave Maria! Synth-rock gets no better - and as a piece the record only improves.
Early reviews seemed to ride the keyboard and krautrock element in Electrelane a little hard, in spite of tracks like "Birds" and "Take the Bit Between You Teeth" having liquorice-blacks and furious-blues aplenty. Thankfully it all comes across at its heaviest more 'Blitzkrieg Bop' than anything terribly Teutonic. Nietzschean allusions? Done. Literary references span a few centuries? Check. Sepia-stained photomontage by the drummer? Nice. Quadlingual lyrical content? Right on. And all this set to flight with lurching guitars, looping keyboard chords, a lick of drum and the occasionally lashing vocal? Oh my. With a nod to one Mssr. Albini, I think we can roundly approbate Electrelane for the contrasts presented here. On the record as whole, there's detectable a great dose of what made Stereolab (or Movietone, or Pram) great in their day1 - an unequivocal disdain for any notion of genre or expectation. At its sweetest, "The Power Out" wails on a few heartstrings that've likely gone unplucked since Switched On. You can see it in a couple of places: "This Deed" starts liturgically sombre, before veering into PJ Harvey intensity. Another song called "The Valley," a brooding gospel choir banging out an earnest homily to a funereal Hammond, sounds a bit like Nick Cave's back-up singers going out on their own. "Gone Under Sea" and "Only One Thing..." serve as sort of punctuated synth-styled bookends. Are they a bit too arty? Depends if you're from the mirror or hammer school - be the judge. Conclusion: ce disque est absolument indispensable / sie sind ziemlich wütend, wenn Sie nicht aquire es / "The Power Out" (Too Pure, 142CD) is an energetic, eloquent and electro awakening from a too-long winter, viz. go get.
1 Switched On, Day & Night and North Pole Radio Station (respectively) I think all come into the territory - if you like this one, you should really maybe give those an ear. Incidentally, this was born a quest entry. The record was just too damn impressive, all out, to pick one.