Let the Sunshine in / by laurel

Nearly 5pm on a thursday afternoon. It's 88 degrees out but it feels like 150. This is the time where I decide to blubber and coo all over Electrelane, a band who, much to my chagrin, hasn't released anything new since May of last year. Last year, people. I know I'm not one to be on the crest of the musical tsunami (such a bad analogy, and for it I apologize, but it's just too hot to think of anything better). I'll eschew the obvious slobbering all over The Eraser (even though Yorke's been sitting pretty in my itunes library far before the actual release of said album) in favor of a band everyone has already heard of and probably listened to death. I mean, for all intents and purposes, I could kick myself into shape and start caring about new music, but I'd rather not willingly throw myself into that lion's den (again, SUCH. BAD. ANALOGIES. TODAY. I'm sorry). I mean, I'm as excited as you are about The Avalanche or whatever Bjork's cooking up, but let's face facts: Electrelane has been hoarding every free second of listening space during my workday, so I figure I should give the gals their due.

Having said that, I'm only going to reference two albums today: The Power Out and Axes. In reverse chronological order. 'Cause I'm difficult like that.

The first part of 2005's shimmering, simmering Axes could very well be called Hand the Mic Off to Someone Else, wherein the warped and honeyed vocals that set The Power Out apart in my mind are conspicuously absent. Instead, sonic soundscapes are carefully constructed--note for scrape for creepy, woozie, gueee-tar--into something vaguely reminiscent of the Santa Monica pier: roiling oceanic piano, nostalgic scratches and dents in a looming infrastructure, lackluster carnival rides, all of it melting nobly in the sun.

Far and away the standout grouping here is "Bells," "If Not Now When?" and "Eight Steps" (the former two are disappointingly punctuated by the which-of-these-is-not-like-the-other "Two For Joy"), a trio of tunes that could be dissected into Parts 1, 2 & 3: Where Verity Susman Goes Cawh-raaaazy on Those Ivories. No really, I mean that it is a breathless, fist-pounding, rawk-hair-shaking, black key explosion--POW! BAM! ZAM! BELLS!--that leads so nicely into "If Not Now When?" I'm tempted to forgive Electrelane of their iniquities in track order (and perhaps also of "Business or Otherwise," by far my least favorite track on Axes).

"I Keep Losing Heart" begins slowly, with a plodding pick-picking banjo, a sighing horn section, and contemplative percussion. Soon enough, though, it picks up where "The [indescribably awesome] Valley" left off on The Power Out--swooning, other-era vocals busting at the seams of the temporary cathedral constructed in my head--only to knock it to pieces and soar straight into realm of Thank Yuh, Jeeeeezus!

"Suitcase," like so much of Electrelane's oeuvre, takes it's sweet time to quietly explore the landscape before burgeoning the capacity of my cheap-arse ipod headphones at the 2:32 mark--a point where most bands are wrapping up their bridge and funneling straight into chorus-chorus-refrain-aaaaaaaand-done. In fact, Susman's cooooing and ahhhhing doesn't even make an appearance until the 3:40 mark. Those Hail Mary's make their final plea toward heaven at the tail end of "Suitcase," and like the Wally World at the end of a road trip, it really is worth the wait.

The Power Out.
There are moments when I'm idly listening to my itunes, and I'm somewhere in the 'D' section (notable culprits are the Dirty Projectors or Danielson), and the songs are sort of mashing into one another like plate o' food at Hometown Buffet. Suddenly my head jerks to attention. Joy Division? In the D-E section? Has the world gone mad?

Sadly, Ian Curtis has not been miraculously resurrected at my place of employment. Rather, track one of The Power Out has fooled me, once again, into thinking that we're all gonna party like it's 1979.

All obvious comparisons to Stereolab aside, Electrelane dons a coat of many colors on The Power Out. Borrowing eras, influences, and sonic auras the world over, the album comprises itself of alternately pulsing, droaning, punching, and plodding sounds. The result is so diverse that I could commute all the way from Long Beach to LA (25.3 miles, people!) without once frantically skipping around.

Verity Susman's wobbling vocals are nowhere better showcased than on "Birds," a song that creeps along like traffic on the 101 before (inexplicably) picking up pace and coasting through the finish line. The track preceding it, "the Valleys," is nothing short of a feat of late 60's reconnaissance--extracting the precise woozy, otherwordly glow of "The Age of Aquarius" and plopping it squarely in a distinctly modern instrumental framework. I'm not going out on a limb here when I say that the moments between 3:40 and 4:39 are the most hair-raising, goose-bumping, SING IT, SISTER! moments I've had all summer (the only exception perhaps being 3:40 on Neko Case's "Star Witness," a moment which gives me chills every time I hear it).

The rest of the album hurtles face first into the kind of anthemic late-sunset driving-in-the-summer territory that few bands pull off successfully. Its final farewell, "You Make Me Weak at the Knees," is a shuffling ode to the oft-neglected black key, swirling and twirling around a melody that's hard not to buckle under. It also serves as a precursor to the piano-heavy Axes to come.

All this to say, The Power Out demands that you listen, and you listen well. Because this isn't music to drone you through your work day--it forces itself into your consciousness and demands to be an equal companion to every moment getting you from Point A to Point B. Not too shabby of a request, I'd say. Even if it's no longer 1979.