It is a rare event when I am completely bowled over by a single song. Hear it once, gotta have it, get addicted, gimme more. This happened to me only twice in 2005. One of those occasions was my initial listen on My Space to “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” by Arctic Monkeys. I’m pretty sure I was not alone on that one. The first instance of this phenomenon, though, was earlier in the year. I’d heard about a song named “The Constant Lover” by some band called Magneta Lane. One listen was all it took. I was caught in a breathtaking rock ‘n’ roll swoon. That one song led me to the EP of the same name, released in Canada in late 2004, but only gaining traction in the greater consciousness of the indie music world in early 2005. While none of the other songs on The Constant Lover EP quite measured up to the dreamily rambunctious title track, each of those five runner-up tunes had its own merit, shooting punk rock energy into classic girl group melodies mixed with the snarling post-riot grrrl riffs of Sleater-Kinney and the grungey wallop of Hole. The EP was a winner, and I began to daydream of a future full-length feast.
A great deal of Magneta Lane’s impact is down to the musical charisma of their lead singer, Lexi Valentine. She takes Chrissie Hynde’s sweetly sour alto and wraps it around Debbie Harry’s blasé romanticism for an emotionally potent vocal style that conveys the same tender toughness as those two peerless women who came a generation before. How many singers can get you boppin’ your head, sighing heavily, and smiling madly all at once? Every note from Lexi’s lips has this delirious, amphetamine-narcotic effect.
But, hey, let’s keep in mind that this is a band we’re talking about here. If you’re new to the Magneta Lane game, then you should know that they’re a trio of comely and kick-ass Canadian lasses. Along with her blessed voice, Lexi cranks out some melodiously crunchy riffs on guitar, as well. Nadia King, meanwhile, takes it to her drum kit with unshakable authority. I hate to double-dip my rock references, but her precision tom-tom beats seem unmistakably inspired by the fabulous Janet Weiss, Sleater-Kinney’s pummeling drummer. Unlike that pioneering Olympia trio, Magneta Lane’s bassist French provides the traditional low-end thump, rolling along one note at a time like Kim Deal or Adam Clayton. It’s bass playing 101, but it propels the music, and I always love it. Honestly, none of these girls are out to change the world with their chops. Although it’s all been done before, they are a tight combo who convey a spirited passion for what they do.
Yeah, they got the beat. Magneta Lane also has the hooks. Bountiful melodies were promised on The Constant Lover. On Dancing with Daggers, the band delivers, and with greater sonic oomph. While the album lacks that one amazing track, like “The Constant Lover”, which would incite instantaneous devotion, this might work to the album’s advantage. I’ve listened to this disc a dozen times in the past week, and I’m still not able to sort out the pretty great songs from the really good ones (none are bad or even merely okay). On first exposure, the hard-buzzing pop tunes, like “Secrets Aren’t So Bad” or “Artistic Condition”, possess the most obvious appeal. But Lexi’s insistent chanting of the title to “22”, over the song’s sharp rhythmic punches, will get both your blood and your fist pumping hard. Then there’s the lullaby arpeggio in the final track, “Butterflies Are Blue”, chiming so prettily over the intro and the middle break, while the rest of the song rips and roars.
Mind you, the songs I’ve selected are more like random samplings than highlights. There are no highlights. Or, if you prefer, there are only highlights. And why not this latter view? At just under 30 minutes, you can listen to Dancing with Daggers twice during one airing of SportsCenter. Try it! The many commercial breaks will be more tolerable and the plays of the week will look way cooler through your new rock ‘n’ roll filter.
Then again, Dancing with Daggers is plenty powerful as a lone entertainment medium. So turn off the TV, let the Web go unbrowsed, and text that message later. If you’ve got half an hour to spare, Magneta Lane will make your day.