There is definitely a bad-ass-chicks-shaped hole where Sleater-Kinney used to be, and its high time it was filled. I mean, who can go without some girls rocking out for this long? It seems like Sleater-Kinney quit years ago. As an all-girl outfit themselves, Electrelane are sort of an obligatory addition to the short list of bands to step into that roll. But with No Shouts, No Calls, they may have just declared themselves heir to the S-K throne.
All that being said, Electrelane doesn’t sound that much like Sleater-Kinney, nor does it seem like they set out to. What the two bands have in common is that they make vital rock music, and in a genre all too scantily populated by females, anyone willing to take the reigns and make music as good as Electrelane is capable of should be embraced by the masses as quickly as possible.
No Shouts, No Calls is the sound of a band with a whole lot of range. These gals can build songs on reed-thin vocal melodies and hushed instrumentation, or blow you out of the water with crunching guitars and echo-off-the-wall drums. Electrelane are a patient band, happy to let their songs build organically, and while much of the work here takes its time building, often what the songs built to can be quite surprising. “After the Call” starts with some simple guitars chords and slow drums. Verity Susman’s vocals float faint and airy over the track. And then a minute in, without warning, the song busts out in a huge guitar riff and serious rock drums. It sets the mood for an album full of contrasts. Electrelane can make sweet, textured pop songs, or they can tap into their riot-grrl side and blow out some speakers. They also have no problem playing fast. On “Between the Wolf and the Dog” they sound like the best punk band you’ve never heard, all jagged guitar strumming and cymbals, until they cut everything and let the bass run before the song kicks right back in, only now they’ve augmented the drums under the same riff so the song sounds more post-punk than anything. Then some vocal harmonies come in that could be straight from an R&B girl group so that by the time the song ends it feels like some sort of musical history lesson.
That Electrelane can fit that much into one song shows just how versatile they really are. Now four full-lengths into their career, their confidence and maturity are at an all-time high. First single “To the Sea” combines all their best elements to craft a song as heartbreaking and beautiful as it is powerful. Susman’s vocals are on display here, as she blasts out “...it’s not so far away, but it could be home,” it almost seems impossible that she’s the one singing. To this early point in the album, her voice has been restrained to a cracking fey tone, one that doesn’t hint at any sort of vocal range at all. But as happens often in No Shouts, No Calls, Susman springs the surprise on you.
And none of these musical swings seem forced. Rather than spend too much time setting up the albums stylistic changes, the band just dives right into them and commits fully, which is really the only way to do it. That the clean keys and light guitar work of a pop tune like “Saturday” is coupled right next to the distortion-heavy, over-the-top hard rock dramatics of a song like “Five” isn’t jarring at all. Even the fact that two songs that are so different come from the same band isn’t that shocking; the surprise comes in how well both are executed. Electrelane isn’t happy just to try a lot of different sounds on their album; they want to execute everything perfectly, and they nearly do.
The album closes just as strongly as it starts, with the banjo and organ pop of “Cut and Run”, followed by the keyboard-driven “The Lighthouse” which finds the band unwilling to slow down even as they near the end. The song builds to moments as transcendent as any other on the album, while still managing to contrast them with quieter moments of piano balladry. It sticks to the quiet piano long enough that, if you weren’t paying attention to the album before now, you might think they were taking the easy fade-out route to ending the album. But then the looping keyboard riff comes back in and the band starts stacking noise and Tom Verlaine-stamped guitar solos on top of each other until, at its peak, the song just cuts out, leaving the listener exactly where they should be at the end of a great album, both wanting more and knowing no more is needed. No Shouts, No Calls is a complete statement by a band at the height of its powers. In the end, whether or not Electrelane fills the void Sleater-Kinney left behind doesn’t matter. That they make music this brilliant does.
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// Notes from the Road
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