Scatterbrain. Incoherent. Unimaginative. Three words that describe the U.K.'s Electrelane's latest creation, The Power Out. The second full-length from the Brighton-based post-rock band is a juxtaposition of genres, each pulling teeth in opposite directions. Some bands can pull of that type of broadness. Regrettably, Electrelane cannot.
Compared their 2001 release Rock It to the Moon, The Power Out lacks the exuberant racing instruments and wild keyboard blasts and instead becomes a game of Spot the Influences. The album sounds like a consortium of Stereolab and Talking Heads, and there's no mistaking the John Cale/Lou Reed guitar tinkle of "Enter Laughing" or the sappy strut of the Cure's "Killing an Arab" during the opening of "On Parade."
The all-girl quartet remains ardent feminists; even a tinge of retro riot grrliness that exudes throughout the eleven tracks. And while periodically the album shows promise when ears perk up to the 74 mph pounding drumbeat in "On Parade" (or the "caw caw" bird noises courtesy of lead singer Verity Susman that could outdo Owen Wilson's in Bottle Rocket) and the listener thinks they could start to dig it, the velocity drops back down to a drone.
Legendary producer Steve Albini (of Nirvana's In Utero fame and onetime member of Big Black) helped the band mix and record and wanted to embed this record with a greater sense of space and light than the previous one, since the members were inspired by folk songs. However, a simple listen through screams traffic jam. One track leapfrogs from experimental indie pop to church choir music to piano ballads to shoegazing without any rhyme or reason.
But you've got to give these girls credit: they strive hard to convey as much emotion possible by singing in French, Spanish and German (vocalist Verity Susman could mirror a slurring version of Stereolab's Laetitia Sadier effortlessly). In fact, the delicate "Oh Sombra!" rings out like a sonnet from Spanish poet Juan Boscan. But foreign dialogue or not, Susman and Co. just can't seem to focus where the music's going, making the album a chore to endure. Susman's yelps eventually become tiresome and ironically indifferent.
Perhaps that's on problem with bands that devote their music to Krautrock the way Electrelane has, by interweaving art rock with more electronic and hypnotic rhythms. It's either a hit-or-miss situation, and in the case of The Power Out, it's a total energy failure.
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