Sunday, April 30, 2006

Pretty Girls Make Graves/Elan Vital/6.4

Forced change always comes off rushed and awkward and overzealous; no exception here,...

Nearly every review of Elan Vital talks about Pretty Girls Make Graves's new sound. Since guitarist Nathan Thelen's departure in 2004 to focus on his family, the band has had to adjust. At first, other guitarists filled in on tour. On Elan Vital, keyboardist Leona Mars joins the band to create a very new sound for the band on their third album.

On the previous two Pretty Girls' albums, I had been most drawn by Thelen's and J Clark's guitar. Both were veteran guitarists from other bands and together they drove the music into red-zone levels of energy. Many of my favorite bands feature a two guitar attack - from Superchunk and Jawbox to The Bloc Party and Deerhoof. The first two Pretty Girls Make Graves records fed into that appetite for powerful guitar rock.

Without the previous albums' guitar sound, I would have been surprised if Elan Vital matched up against the first two albums for me. Elan Vital has forced me to adjust my expectations. On the first listen, I was disappointed. However, once I deliberately put aside my expectation of roaring, dueling guitars, I began to enjoy the new CD. The track Pyrite Pedestal manages to channel as much energy as any track on the first two records. Parade had bobbing my head. Selling the Wind on track eight gave me the best punk accordion line I've heard since the Mekons. However, not all of the tracks quite worked for me. So even after adjusting my expectation, I'd give this album something in the low 7's. No, Elan Vital isn't quite as good as Pretty Girls Make Graves previous records, but it's still pretty good.

Ubl's review, while crisply written, seems to approach the band's new sound as if it is an experiment by them. He also seems to have been under some of the same prejudices of me; my initial notes on the CD had a much longer paragraph praising PGMG's previous CDs. However, beloved bands change - sometimes out of choice and sometime out of necessity. While listeners always bring their past history when listening to a new CD, sometimes it's best to put that history aside and listen again. The last thing I'd ever ask a band to do is chase its own tail.

Lastly, there seems to be some kind of a graphic design gaffe on my copy of the CD. Only eleven tracks are listed on the artwork, but there are twelve on the CD. I thought that there was a mystery track, but it turns out that seven and eight have the same title on the lyric sheet. Even a trip out to Allmusic has the title repeated on tracks seven and eight. Based on the lyrics, my guess is that track eight should be titled Selling the Wind, which leaves track seven as a mystery titled song.