"Lali Puna" sounds like it’s a Spanish phrase meaning something offensive, or a Russian phrase meaning something offensive. But Lali Puna is neither. It’s one of the most subtle and ingenious ambient electronic pop bands you have rarely heard of. And the quartet — Valerie Trebeljahr, Markus Archer, Christoph Brandner and Florian Zimmer — will probably remain that way unless they find famous people to hit them (Jack White/Michael Jackson) or they die a gory death.
It’s safe to consider both of these events unlikely. But ever since Radiohead’s Colin Greenwood mentioned in a monolith of a New Yorker article that he liked Lali Puna, I’ve wanted to know what the band’s about. After hearing Faking the Books, I know why they’re worthy of the rare compliment from alternative rock’s painfully tight-lipped Britons.
To introduce you to Faking the Books, a natural companion to your collection of Aphex Twin’s Collected Ambient Works Vol. 1 and 2 and Portishead’s Dummy, let us begin by saying that Lali Puna is about love and sex and the in between of it all, and they don’t mind being just that. Lead singer Trebeljahr’s whispery voice confides abstractions, sensual and intimate, without being uncomfortably confessional. She leaves you in a haze of angular poetry.
Aphex Twin and Radiohead know how to tweak your brain like a bad trip, but the title track on Faking the Books achieves a rare degree of depth through meditation instead of fragmentation. The song stands as the reason the album should exist, and should continue to exist eternally. Whether you take this as an overstatement is a problem between you, history and the state of your bank account.
Electronic musicians generally must make their daily bread and mead through club hits. For its album, Lali Puna generated a few cute neo-’80s dance songs in the tradition of Miss Kitten and Ladytron. The tracks can make you shimmy like any good Berliner can make you bounce fabulous. But that’s not Lali Puna’s real strength.
Their strength is old-fashioned conflicted love songs, like "Faking the Books." The problem is most people who like electronica also like consuming massive amounts of ecstasy and would rather be fucking in some day-glo bikini than making love in the alley of a chilly German city. Most people who like electronica don’t even know which the side of the Berlin Wall is west, or why there even is a wall.
It’s just sort of a shame that Lali Puna is within a genre more often than not is designed for cheap bacchanals and grotty teenagers enjoying the candy-coated fruits of ignorant youth. Like Bach left to wither in some church his whole lifetime, Trebeljahr, heavily influenced by classical music, knows better than to enjoy herself too much. Lali Puna exercises the art of restraint and lends satisfaction from what is left unsaid … I can’t exactly put my finger on it; I guess that’s why it’s music.