If you’re to believe the press on the Morr Records website, Our Inventions — Lali Puna’s first album in six years — “finds [the group] continuing to push the frontiers of their medium”. Furthermore, Morr hyperbolically declares that “perhaps never before have such jubilant pop hooks been so meticulously and fastidiously crafted”. Now, I’m about the last person to take more than a glancing interest in promotional hype (in my days as a college radio music director, I often chucked one-sheet mail inserts into the recycle bin without reading them). But I thought I’d make this clear for anyone who might be approaching the German electronic quartet’s fourth full-length album with lofty expectations: all that promo copy is bullshit. Our Inventions is a fetching record, but if you’re already familiar with, say, Broadcast or any other band in a similar vein, don’t expect this album to knock your socks off.
Our Inventions fits comfortably into my personal definition of a “fine” record: an album that’s reasonably pleasant throughout with no glaring flaws. Here, Lali Puna crafts track after track of hushed, soothing electronic-based pop, where drum machines putter dryly in the background and synthesized noises tinkle gently as singer Valerie Trebeljahr coos nothing but the simplest melodies in her charming plain-Jane delivery. Even when the electronics occasionally sputter, crackle, and whirl, the overall sound Lali Puna constructs is as comfortable as a big fluffy pillow. Enveloping without being distracting, it’s the perfect sort of album for slumbertime, one where the listener can cue it up at the very beginning or at a random point in the running time, and yet still find themselves absorbed in until the end.
And yet… it’s kind of unremarkable. Just as there are no egregious failures (about the biggest misstep the album produces is the stilted hip-hop-meets-Suzanne-Vega’s-“Blood Makes Noise” vibe of “Move On”, which isn’t even all that bad), there are no home runs on Our Inventions, no grand moments of musical brilliance that demand instant playback of a track. That’s because musically it’s unambitious: rarely do the electronics pulse at anything besides eighth notes, and the melodies verge on the twee in their childlike simplicity. Not to downplay Lali Puna’s skill as composers, but I’m reasonably certain I could find some grade schoolers who could write melodies as “meticulously and fastidiously crafted” as those found here. Furthermore, there’s no point replaying a song once it ends, because they’re all cut from the same cloth, and if you like one track, you’ll certainly dig the next one. Even the closing track “Out There”, which features Yellow Magic Orchestra vocalist Yukihiro Takahashi, is more or less indistinguishable from the preceding nine cuts. While such uniformity makes for a solid listening experience, it also means there’s no ebb and flow to the record. Ten songs in, it simply ends without warning.
Things occasionally get interesting when the background textures begin to chirp like some garbled language. Even those fleeting moments of adventurousness are not enough to make Our Inventions stand out in the realm of minimalist electronic pop (can I coin a genre name here?). Still, I really can’t hold its musical ordinariness against it. Our Inventions is still a decent pop album, and I can’t help but like it for that. Not every album can be a daring exploration of musical possibilities, because talent and ambition are found in wildly varying amounts in this world, but not every album needs to be. Sometime it’s enough to just craft a fine record that one can contentedly cuddle up to at night.