It runs contrary to the lessons of rock history to conceive of an established band holing up in Berlin to produce its most direct and accessible album, but such is the case with Electrelane’s German-born fourth, No Shouts, No Calls. From the first notes of opener “The Greater Times,” it’s clear that the band members now realize that developing past their debt to Stereolab didn’t require an album of impenetrable instrumentals like 2005’s Axes. No: Strangely enough, it’s obvious from the onset that the Brighton lasses unlocked their inner warmth in Europe’s art capital.
Immediately after establishing this pretty pop persona, the girls perfect it with the peerlessly enchanting “To the East.” After faking inertia for thirty seconds, Electrelane locks into a bass-and-kick-pedal groove and then suddenly sprints ahead even faster, pushing it from a gentle toe tapper to something that might set hips in motion. This is all before Verity Susman’s sad, windswept vocal enters. It sounds thin and slightly strained, a whisper amplified to fill a room. The interplay of buoyant rhythm and sweet melancholy is flatly gorgeous. Most of the songs on the album mimic this architecture to slightly lesser effect, beginning with a modest isolated melody and then piling layers of words and guitar over top, picking up speed and intensity as they go along. It seems as if there’s no ballad that doesn’t contain a hidden corker. Somehow the formula’s familiarity fails to breed contempt.
Even when they flirt with the old multi-part instrumental rockers, light doses of humanity remain. “Between the Wolf and the Dog” starts as an Axes-style heavy guitar workout, switching between balls-out explosions and balls in restraint before eschewing balls completely for some lovely vocal harmonics. On “Five,” the girls approach the menace of krautrock scientists Neu! by pairing evil riffs with an accelerating beat, before adding wind streaks of ghostly vocals. These unexpected bursts make all the difference, saving the compositions from Axes‘ admirable but impersonal sound, like curtains drawn on a dimly lit room. Better still is the continually sunny pop of “Cut and Run.” For once, the band seems relaxed, content to stay in its breezy ukulele glow without developing to a driving finale. The lyrics are as lovelorn as ever, but it sounds far too sweet for wallowing.
Early notices have insinuated that Electrelane wrings beauty out of limited musical ability, a notion that seems pretty laughable in the face of the twisting dynamics on display all over No Shouts, No Calls. It’s fairer to say that the band has finally figured out how to harness its raw musical ability into sleek compositions that connect on a basic human level. All the swirling riffs and overlapping repetitions might be tiresome if not for the sad, imperfect voices at their center. It’s their vulnerability that carries the record, making the saturating lyrical heartbreak sound like the perfect place to start moving forward.