Music

Pretty Girls Make Graves: Élan Vital

With stretch marks out in full display, Pretty Girls Make Graves hit puberty and deliver Élan Vital, an album shaped by the band's growing pains.


Pretty Girls Make Graves

Élan Vital

Label: Matador
US Release Date: 2006-04-11
UK Release Date: 2006-04-10
Amazon
iTunes

Show me a band without growing pains and I'll show you stretch marks so obvious only obsession could obscure them. Your favorite acts, from the Streets to the Strokes, just met the tail end of musical puberty -- the teenage wasteland part. They changed. But you don't have to embrace the new them. Acceptance is fleeting, and when it fades, when the reality of the new them begins to grind against your very fiber, it's not uncommon or uncouth to seek a divorce, or at least a trial separation.

Say, for instance, the lyrics -- once crude, concise and coy. What will you say when the spaces in which lead singer Andrea Zollo previously left you -- back pockets and bedrooms -- become "stygian shores" and "pyrite pedestals"? And upon uncovering their meaning, will you wonder (alliteration aside) why Homeric references were warranted?

Of Élan Vital's 12 songs, "Pyrite Pedestal" re-defines PGMG with the most authority, finding the group dashing from old to new with anxiety-inducing results.

A galloping bass line/drum fill starts it, never slowing. New addition and keyboardist Leonna Marrs injects into this tension a melancholic chime. Zollo's singing now. About how seeking approval's arms is alluring, then into this:

That ain't even like myself / No [here, she pauses, leaving just the initial bass line to sputter along until ...], things are going to change,
whereupon Ms. Marrs marches the entire thing deep into Pete Townshend territory, i.e., the darting synthesizers sound of "Baby O'Riley".

Mind you, I quite like that song -- for the way it says I'm nervous about how you'll react to the new me but I'm not afraid to strip naked and change in front of you. Zollo's delivery is as anthemic as ever, though suddenly she seems sedated, which describes this incarnation of PGMG perfectly. Don't get me wrong; "The Magic Hour", which loots the rhythm section from Spoon's "I Turn My Camera On" and even the Coldplay/Radiohead-esque "Pearls on a Plate", pushes this band to broader vistas. However, these places are not yet familiar (and may never be) -- to them or us.

Certain colleagues in music criticism have insisted that Élan Vital lacks the teeth of previous albums (read: it's been "defanged"). Much the same feeling woos me. With no teeth, the songs on this album clamp down with both gums. Of these, "Parade" is pure aggravation, a paean for the union movement, almost childish in its treatment. "Pictures of a Night Scene" finds the group back in darkened theatre mode as Marrs conjures up the Michael Myers Halloween theme. Towards the end, though, it collapses as Jay Clark indulges his inner Ornette Coleman: out comes a sax and some hideous skronking. An odd sensation arises, but no sharp pain.

As it causes no pain, you pay it no mind. That time (three years since The New Romance), a lineup change (goodbye guitarist Nate Thelen, largely responsible for said missing bite; hello Marrs), and an aborted album (written in 2004-2005) have worn dull. Its post-punk teeth cease to matter.

If you don't like it, you don't like it. Forget 'em and go call on those more reliably boring bands whose anthemic albums have all the excitement of eternal ennui.

5
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

12 Essential Performances from New Orleans' Piano "Professors"

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Here's a dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and a little something extra.

Music

Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

By the Book

Flight and Return: Kendra Atleework's Memoir, 'Miracle Country'

Although inconsistent as a memoir, Miracle Country is a breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.

Music

Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold Celebrate New Album With Performance Video (premiere)

Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) and Ingunn Ringvold share a 20-minute performance video that highlights their new album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation. "This was an opportunity to perform the new songs and pretend in a way that we were still going on tour because we had been so looking forward to that."

Music

David Grubbs and Taku Unami Collaborate on the Downright Riveting 'Comet Meta'

Comet Meta is a brilliant record full of compositions and moments worthy of their own accord, but what's really enticing is that it's not only by David Grubbs but of him. It's perhaps the most emotive, dream-like, and accomplished piece of Grubbsian experimental post-rock.

Music

On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.

Music

Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.

Music

Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.

Music

Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."

Books

How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.

Film

From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.