After Electrelane’s last album The Power Out was surprisingly lyric-centric, the all-female musical noodlers have ushered in their old style again for their third offering, Axes. It’s clear though that the Brighton four-piece have matured somewhat in their take on experimental instrumentals.
They still deliver the epic emporium of sounds and moods, as in debut Rock It To The Moon, but you feel that they’ve settled into a more comfortable mix of the abstract and the conventional. There’s less synth and more rocking out. There’s less goofiness and more serious art school takes on songs and their structure. There’s a more natural blend of lyric and compostion.
In Axes the sassy girls have lost none of their coolness and creativity. The opening short track is an apocalyptic preamble to second track Bells. Chaotic crashes make way for raindrop piano tinkling over a muffled bass line. The soft singing is reminiscent of Belle And Sebastian and is simply beautiful, but this is taken over by a distortion guitar sawing through the song with some high-pitched and frenzied piano bashing a la Jerry Lee Lewis. What a journey!
Electrelane also return with their Name That Sound game, where they record an obscure bit of audio and you have to guess what it could be, or that’s what it feels like anyway. For the sounds at the end of Two For Joy and Gone Darker, answers on a postcard please. No stamp required.
They also come back with that niggling bare note guitar riff that’s repeated over and over and over until I swear you become slightly hypnotised. This is particularly apparent in Atom’s Tomb, where the same guitar lick is swirled round and round in the great vast Electrelane washing machine.
Additionally there’s more idiosyncratic mix ‘n’ matching going on here. Not many bands will have sat down and thought ‘why not put a cheeky little ukelele with a plaintive bugle, and while we’re at it, let’s have a parping trumpet and a male operatic choir to sing the occasional line’, as is the case with I Keep Losing Heart. In the aforementioned Gone Darker a truck’s insistent horn becomes a cacophonous instrument as it’s woven into the fabric of the song alongside a saxophone and a guitar. And in Eight Steps, a Spanish accordion does its best Oscar-winning performance in what sounds like a high-speed Latino drama; it’s not a patch on the crescendoing squealing piano though.
The sonic scene-setters have oft been criticised for having no consistency in their albums, flying to one corner for some spacey rock within the conventional song structure, and then to another for some far out avant garde weirdness. I have to say it’s the case again with Axes. The Partisan sounds like an Irish folk dittie souped up into a rock song, with faint vocals drowned out by deep-throat guitars. The chord progressions in Two For Joy are also redolent of a poppy song.
But then you have Business Or Otherwise, which can only be described as the most unsong-like song and unmelodic melody on God’s green earth. We have here split second snatches of atonal guitar, piano, drums and excruciating sawing of violin string. It belongs in the Tate Modern to be admired by people like the culturally-overdosed Modern Parents from Viz comic.
So Electrelane’s third album is another venture into the minds of four very talented and artistic young ladies. Sometimes their creativity leads them astray into territory that should best be kept in the art room, but otherwise Axes is a delicious listen. It’s full of unexpected twists and contortions but you whizz and float along with them. Above all, you thoroughly enjoy the ride.