Album Reviews

Pretty Girls Make Graves – Élan Vital

(Matador) UK release date: 3 April 2006

Pretty Girls Make Graves - Élan Vital L’Evolution créatrice, or creative evolution, was the French philosopher Henri Bergson’s most prized work. Published in 1907, it offered alternative theories on evolution. One principle was Bergson’s notion of Élan vital. Flatly, it means “vital force.” According to Bergsson, it was an invisible force which existed in all living organisms causing the evolution in nature. This creative impulse or living energy could never be scientifically verified, but it provided the vital impulse that continuously shaped all life.

Bergson’s theory to this day may not yet have been proven in the laboratory, but in the environment of a recording studio, musicians are constantly feeding off this force to produce their own work. None more so can this be found in the petri-dish of assorted samples that is Pretty Girls Make Graves back catalogue.

By christening their third album Élan Vital they are not so much a wearing their hearts on their sleeves, as providing a statement of the band’s latest stage of evolution. This is an album all but exiled of Good Health. It starts on the very edge of the canvas of the New Romance and diffuses into an alluring nebula; part new wave, part post punk, but drifting further into alt-rock and even the odd shooting star of prog.

The first half of the album sees the band orbiting in reasonable proximity to the New Romance. The Nocturnal House sprinkles life with its delay-laden guitars and whistles washing around Andrea Zollo’s enamouring vocals. The Number synthesizes a fetching percussion-led march against Zollo’s adopted Siouxsie Sioux style vocals.

As if to illustrate their departure from the old, the interlude creeps in with computer effects flying through a drifty, western-style instrumental. A trumpet sounds, signalling the long journey coming to its end.

And so part two of the evolution phase observes almost wholly uncharted territory. The aptly titled Magic Hour runs a deep experiment in prog. Pearls on A Plate expands into a lush ballad and manifests to be one of the band’s most ambitious songs ever.

The heterogeneous nature of the record is no doubt partly down to Leona Marrs coming in on keyboards and percussion, with the band electing not to recruit a guitarist for the departed Nathan Thelen. The use of electronics, violins, trumpets and a whole litany of instruments at times is difficult to take in, and may indeed be too far a revolution for some.

As the synth comes in like a gentle tide in Bullet Charm and the augmentation completes, Bergson’s often derided theory is all but proven. The most vivid of examples being this record, it maps how beautiful an entity these vital forces can create and become.

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