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Pretty Girls Make Graves - The New Romance

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Artist: Pretty Girls Make Graves

Album: The New Romance

Label: Matador

Review date: Oct. 12, 2003

It's interesting to come across a band which simultaneously doesn't sound that much like anyone else yet brings to mind quite a number of influences. Many of the songs on The New Romance feel as if we're once again circa 1985, in the post-punk era, though there's certainly something "now" about it as well. The keyboards throughout give the band the opportunity to indulge in richer dynamics than I tend to hear these days. Allowing the vocals, guitar, and keyboards to trade off results in a wider range that's very much to their benefit.

"Something Bigger, Something Brighter" opens with a gothic-tinged intro, then dives into heavier waters. The vocals are strong, but keep a somehow distant feel to them. "All Medicated Geniuses" is one of the most memorable tracks, with remarkably abstract guitar interplay, intriguing bass, and strong, appealing vocals that fall just this side of strident.

The guitar throughout the album has an unusual approach which certainly helps PGMG stand out from the crowd. At times the playing reminds me a bit of PiL, Killing Joke, even of Wire or, more obscurely, of Tokyo's Gaji. Sometimes the guitar holds down the melody, but just as often it serves as accent or even an interesting distraction from the main activity. It's quite refreshing.

"Blue Lights" places the emphasis on atmosphere and a great bassline as it begins with an ominous chanting, then slowly builds. On the opposite side of things there's "The Teeth Collector," probably a good candidate for a single. Fast, strong rock, it shifts into chorused guitar and echoing vocal breaks that are extremely reminiscent of U2 back when they didn't suck. Andrea Zollo's vocals here are at their strongest, clear and vibrant, and the guitar slides cleanly between frantic punk slashes and chiming chords.

The title track is keyboard-led, with some great bass work. The organ at the beginning brings both Magazine and some of the great Stranglers stuff to mind, and the break partway in is a particularly nice example of the band's ability to put a twist in a song. The bass takes on a clocklike pulse while the guitar and vocals wind their way in and around each other, and then everything clicks back together as the keyboards kick in again.

In some ways one of the most retro songs on here, "This is Our Emergency" is reminiscent of mid-80s bands like Live Skull. Sharp, churning guitar, heavy rhythm section, and vocals that soar from nearly-spoken to skyward-bound incantations, it\'s a very catchy song. "A Certain Cemetery" is an interesting choice as a closer, with its melancholy piano and vocal combo at the start and the piston-rhythmic piano-guitar break. The ending reaches a fine, dirge-like feel that does indeed provide some closure.

Surprisingly, this has been a pretty damn good year for interesting rock, and The New Romance is right up there on the list. It gives you hope in these dark times, and that's a fine thing.

By Mason Jones

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