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Electro Group

Ummo

(Omnibus; US: 18 May 2004; UK: 3 Feb 2004)

Electro Group bills itself as “noise-pop”, and it bases its sound on plenty of reverb and intense drumming. I suspect the band would like the obligatory My Bloody Valentine reference at this point, but it wouldn’t quite be accurate. On its new EP Ummo, the group has a shoegaze edge to its production, but it lacks the orchestration. Electro Group comes closer to pre-Jim O’Rourke Sonic Youth aesthetic. As noisy as the bad can get, the songs still rely on hooks, and Electro Group keeps away from truly experimental terrain (hence the “pop” in their genre title).


You don’t need seven songs to fill an EP, and Electro Group should have stuck to six and cut the first number, “Captain New Mexico”. With its formulaic sound and off-key vocals, the track gets the disc off to a bad start. The up-tempo beat might set the tone that the group wants, but the song just doesn’t work as an opener.


After that, Electro Group takes things in a better direction. “Nobody Knows” rides on a fuzzy-guitar sound with steady drumming and well-used electronic blips. The vocals on this track work better; they’re slightly buried and function more as an instrument than as a lyrical front, as they do on the previous track. The EP keeps getting better from here, and this song serves as the more accurate signal of what is to come.


“Noon Blue Apples” provides the disc’s biggest change of pace, with its slowed-down tempo, single-note guitar lines, and echo-y keys. After about 40 seconds, the rest of the noise comes in, and it’s actually quite lovely. The quiet sections of the song sustain interest, and the heavier sections build without jarring.


“My Machines” opens with simple acoustic-guitar strumming and vocals, and the band’s biggest shortcoming is—as on “Captain New Mexico”—held out in the open. Electro Group’s vocalist just doesn’t have the sense of pitch to stand in isolation. Buried in the mix, the vocals succeed as often as not, but whenever they’re upfront, it’s not pretty. Noise-pop certainly doesn’t depend on full voices, but at it’s best, the music should provide genuinely disconcerting dissonance instead of just missed notes.


As if to make up for “My Machines”, Electro Group places the instrumental title track next. This song’s only flaw is its brevity. The opening white noise provides the groundwork and the band layers the guitars and drums nicely above it. The keys provide a nice, clear countermelody, to the fuzzy lead guitar. The production’s crisp and the arrangement works wonderfully, with the band building and releasing tension while playing the instruments against each other. At just a little over two minutes, though, “Ummo” ends just as it’s developed all its themes. Electro Group could provide some further sonic exploration here, as they surely must in a live setting.


By the end of the EP, Electro Group’s done a good job of showing what they’re about. They’ve combined pop songwriting with shoegaze production. It’s not really anything new, but the band—for the most part—does it well. The disc’s top moments are all instrumental, and the band members show a fine ear for arrangement. Technically, the drumming is the most complex and interesting individual element, but Electro Group has that second word in its band name because their sound really is about fitting the pieces together. Ummo isn’t the best of its kind, but it does reveal a band that’s precise in its studio work and energetic in its playing. With a foot on each side of the line between noise and pop, Electro Group might not be going anywhere, but it has a good sense of where it is.

Justin Cober-Lake lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with his wife, kids, and dog. His writing has appeared in a number of places, including Stylus, Paste, Chord, and Trouser Press. His work made its first appearance on CD with the release of Todd Goodman's first symphony, Fields of Crimson. He's recently co-founded the literary fly-fishing journal Rise Forms.


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