A couple years ago, I decided to embark on the adolescent pursuit of becoming a musician, particularly, a guitar player. I had done some collagey things back in the Factsheet 5 cassette underground in the late 80's (+10 hit points if you remember Factsheet 5) and the errant racket produced by numerous confluences generated by the desire to have a noise band, which all quickly and rightfully dissipated. This time, I wanted to get my loner teenager on and learn guitar, but instead of the basement of my parent's house being the laboratory, it was in the basement of my office building on lunch breaks. Half as cool, twice as pathetic, I know, but we make our own fun here at Alex World. And like any teenager, I chose my styles to emulate. The wisdom that comes with age informed me not to bite off the more-i-can-chew of a Hendrix or a John Fahey, so I opted to hitch my rising star to the repetitious throb of Krautrock, particularly Can. Their endless cycling of simple riffs and tinge of artiness was the right horse for this wagon - easy enough to dink along with, weird enough to keep my music nrrd badge from falling off my uniform. I looked for modern units mining that same vein to not much avail. Too bad I had not discovered the splendours of Brighton's Electrelane, or I wouldn't have to wait until now to have a new favorite band to want to be.
This all-woman quartet (a detail feel funny mentioning, but every item in their press release referred to them as an "all-girl" outfit, and I wanted to highlight that they are in fact grown women, and that women do make music on occasion, I'm told) bore straight through my brain on their new album Axes. Recorded live in the studio by Sound Engineer For His Generation Steve Albini, the various songs all set into motion like a succession of model trains weaving through an elaborate varied landscape. "One Two Three Four" appropriately sets the orbits a-spinning with its collision of piano and drum outbursts at the onset, feeding into a blissful array of twinkly ivories and syncopated Stereolab rhythms in "Bells".
The s-word comes up a lot with this band, and there are obvious similarities, but Electrelane, feels more song-ish, projecting their pop melodies through the prism of minimalism. These projections take various form throughout the album, but most often as dramatic piano runs running shotgun with a strident beat and slyly intricate guitar lines, best exemplified on "If Not Now, When?"
Some notable exceptions are the frenetic Balkan torrent of accordion on "Eight Steps," the simple idea gone brilliant paring of the band and an actual passing train on "Gone Darker" and the evocatively spare "Business or Otherwise" where the instruments abruptly alert to their presence in a Samuel Beckett darkness. Its only after listening to the whole thing do you realize there is an atomic logic to the song. I've heard both Sonic Youth and Nurse With Wound try their much respected hands at this George Crumb gone indie rock routine before, but its never gelled as effectively as this.
The bands punk-correct politics come to surface with their raging rendition of Leonard Cohen's "The Partisan" scathingly dedicated to a certain current US President according to the press material. The big winner on this record is the banjo driven ballad "I Keep Losing Heart" where a Philip Glass-like choir intones the lyrics over a plaintive banjo run. The way the piano mixes with the drums and the chanting vocals and the surprisingly hooty synth-horns is positively delightful. The album closes with the 9-minute heavily-packed "Suitcase" (sorry, couldn't resist. Just be thankful I opted to not call the article "Axes: Bold as Love") which runs through the various styles of repetition and modulation represented on the album on one big medley.
Groups dabbling in this water are hard to describe without uselessly invoking similar bands, like I have done in the above paragraphs. Let's just suffice to say this is one great versatile record, that can either play the part of backing soundtrack to your rock-n-roll lifestyle, or just as easily get your butt to move like it did to me and my daughter when I threw it on last night. I'm going to have to seek out their past albums now to see what brought them to such a perfect place, so I advise you to get on board now while seats are still available. And if you, Electrelane, are looking for a cheap but enthusiastic mediocre multi-instrumentalist to add to the mix for the errant b-side, you can reach me here.
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