Electrelane – No Shouts, No Calls

July 18, 2007

Electrelane - No Shouts, No CallsAfter the first listen, this album was good. By the second or third listen, it was one of the best of the year, and it just keeps climbing in my estimation with each time I play it. It’s a very vulnerable and delicate sort of album, which is not the sort of thing I usually go for (understatement). But there is power here too, and creativity. Never before have I heard an album that so ably blurs the lines between melody, harmony, and texture. Bass lines are hummable, vocal parts are used for harmony, and these and other musical elements alternate and rotate control of the melody, which is always central. These are not the kind of melodies you’re thinking of though, precisely because melodic voices often dive into harmony and repetition. The album’s minimal, natural sound and fantastic arrangements makes little things that otherwise might fade into the mix sublime. The sound uses droning, propulsive rock as a technique, but not as a controlling element. Previous albums have been accused of copying Stereolab, but this one, to me, sounds nothing like any Stereolab I’ve ever heard. Even the droning guitars are usually just a part of the system of interlocking melodic lines. This is no droning rock record with some pop bits mixed in: the droning is merely the often-brilliant texture beneath a shockingly melodic sound (or sometimes, the melody itself).

I’d never heard Electrelane before this album, but hearing it inspired me to go listen to their older material. At least on a first listen, nothing else is the achievement that this record is, although that’s not really fair, because never before have they seemed to be trying to make this record. Axes really is a droning rock record, strongly influenced by Kraut-rock. While The Power Out is more pop-influenced, it doesn’t have the natural, free sound and strong sense of identity that this record has (although “Enter Laughing” and some other tracks come close). Instead, it sounds like Stereolab (French pop drones) made a bit more punk. That’s a cool sound too of course, but No Shouts, No Calls is a brave step away from their influences. The sound isn’t entirely accessible, but more because it’s so personal and thoughtful than because its genre is drone or punk, and not pop.

“The Greater Times” did not impress me on a first listen, but it’s a grower, like many of the songs here. It builds very slowly, and beautiful melodic moments often occur only once or twice, as the melody continually meanders. The quantity of ideas here is impressive, and I think that might be why the song has grown on me so much. The lyrics also make this song a success: references to childhood and romance create a friendly atmosphere of innocence. The song really becomes superb around the two-minute mark: “You say you don’t know / What love means / Any more” is a beautiful “Modern Romance”-esque statement which grounds much of the rest of what is said on this album. It’s a call back to romantic comedies. You know, the ones where a cute guy and a cute girl who aren’t very personally compatible (they’re complete opposites, and hate each other at first) are drawn together by this inexplicable ‘love’ stuff. I’m not exactly a romantic, but the sentiment here is powerful, perhaps because, like “Modern Romance”, it doesn’t so much describe how this ‘love’ stuff is supposed to work as criticize its absence. The modern world is a big thing to criticize, but the album creates a little space where dreams of love seem grounded in reality. Which is kinda nice.

“To the East” is the single, and it is brilliant. The melodies are so well-arranged that every few seconds there’s another fantastic moment. When they sing “The East’s not so far away. / It could be home!” at 2:25, or “Come back / Come back / COME BACK / oh, to me!” a minute and some later, the emotion and beauty are both very real. “After the Call” follows, and is the first track that speeds up the pace and increases the sound of the guitar in the mix. It rocks, even beneath the fragile cries of “What can I do?” The contrast between the insistent rock guitars and the beautiful bedroom vocals makes for an incredible sound. The sense that the band really cares about the music shows through in the music’s insistent propulsion and emotional depth.

“Tram 21” is one of those tracks that’s almost an instrumental: vocals are present, but not lyrics, and instead the voices are used as texture and harmony. A great riff, then a guitar melody (I think that’s the ‘real’ melody, to be honest, and the vocals are just faking it), suddenly gaining in force. Then a chorus of ooh’s and ah’s forming a second melodic line. Then a second set of ooh’s and ah’s for more harmonic force. It’s a completely brilliant mood piece, full of ups and downs. The following track, “In Berlin” is perhaps the best track: it builds on a delicate arpeggio, adding strings, and slowly crescendoing to a brilliant climax: “You are all I long for this winter / and you are all I need”. The blend of sounds is intricate and seamless. “At Sea” is the joyous follow-up: “They say / There’s always tomorrow”, they sing, and then the guitar just starts bouncing.

“Between the Wolf and the Dog” begins as the hardest rocker on the album with an awesome riff, but when the vocals come in, they contrast strongly, somewhat softening the piece, and completely altering its feel. “Saturday” follows, creating a mood of innocence and wonder with a very simple yet gorgeous piano melody. However, it’s “Cut and Run” which really takes that mood and runs with it, achieving near-perfection. Acoustic (w/ ukelele!), it sounds like nothing else on the album, but is small, thoughtful, and ridiculously sweet. It’s a beautiful piece of bedroom sing-along indie pop, and the fact that it is this good is a testament to Electrelane’s song-writing.

Often, music about romance fails because it’s too delicate and wimpy, or because it’s over-emotional to the point where it glorifies destructive emotions (like the feeling of despair following a breakup). Either way, it can come off as brainless or whiny. This is highly successful music about romance, because it’s based on calls for strength and intelligence, with strong and intelligent music to back it up. It argues for romance, not because romance is a cure-all, but because romance is something worth working hard to achieve. And that’s a sentiment that even a real cynic can’t help but admire and treasure.

9.0/10

MP3: Electrelane – In Berlin
MP3: Electrelane – Cut And Run

posted by nerdbound

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One Response to “Electrelane – No Shouts, No Calls”

  1. Sam Says:

    That’s a really good review of a glorious LP !!!


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