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Electrelane - Axes

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Artist: Electrelane

Album: Axes

Label: Too Pure

Review date: Jun. 22, 2005

Electrelane’s Axes plays upon a very defined and balanced formula, making music that feels like if any one element disappeared – even the subtle scraping of guitar strings, barely audible on “Eight Steps” – the whole band would fall apart. It is the way it is, purposeful of intent. I recently witnessed such an unfortunate accident at their Bowery Ballroom performance earlier this month; cowed into submission by the sedate nature of the opening acts, the soundman must have been aiming low, as guitarist Mia Clarke and bassist Ros Murray were all but absent from the mix, even at the front of the house. This all but demolished the interplay that makes their sound, songs … their entire band work, and I couldn’t bear to witness this, so I bailed halfway through.

Such is the way with Electrelane. Their music demands your attention in such a way that even new listeners would be able to discern an absence of parts and imbalances in their performance. Their music paints a very clear, distinct portrait, singular in intent, even when loose-sounding and spontaneous; they’re totally on cue, on purpose – they meant to do that. As musicians working towards a complete sound, they enjoy a dynamic parity normally reserved for jazz and improvisational musicians. Recorded live in Steve Albini’s studio and sequenced together thereafter, Axes works as an hour-long piece of tension, dread, and release, with little room for interpretation, demanding to be listened to as a whole.

Here’s a map: first third all turbulent springiness (clamorous key-mashing in “Bells;” unsteady VU-style trance pop in “Two For Joy;” Balkan gypsy stomp in “Eight Steps”); middle part desperate and angst-ridden (sporadic, Ex-style machine-tooled beatdowns in “Business or Otherwise;” sax caterwauling and melodic dirge in “Atom’s Tomb;” a thrashed-out episode of a Leonard Cohen cover); the ending trying to reconcile the two (fragile, home-spun pluck and a chordy, epic finale, bridged by feedback butterflies and anchored by choral vocals). Micromanagement of this variety usually doesn’t lend itself to comparison of structure, but sonically they align themselves in spots with the Ex, as mentioned above, as well as Yo La Tengo, and the Clean, and Uz Jsme Doma. Mostly they sound like themselves, though – Emma Gaze’s nimble drumming, a steady/wobbly approach (thankfully unencumbered by Albini’s signature shell-tone snare thwack), clear and proud vocals and piano playing by Verity Susman, follow-the-leader guitar and bassisms by Clarke and Murray.

What does it all mean? The words don’t tell the story, and the story remains unfinished. Is it a lament on the ills of the Western world? An ode to lost friends? The song titles only add to the tension: “Suitcase,” “Those Pockets Are People,” “If Not Now, When?” Very temporary, impatient, aware. Getting in the van and going somewhere else. All of these notions add up to a challenging, confounding listen by women with deliberate intent, possibly the most structured and demanding pop music around, inspiring thought around its line in the proverbial sand and rewarding to all with the attention span to make it through.

By Doug Mosurock

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