Electrelane – The Power Out (2004) / No Shouts No Calls (2007)

Electrelane albums gifI miss Electrelane. Though they recently returned briefly to playing live, they split as a record-making force in 2008, after four albums and ten years together. Whether they’ll make another record together or not I don’t know, but for now they leave a pretty unimpeachable discography – tight and consistent to the point of being myopic, some might say, but incredibly high quality.

A name I’d known for years, I got into them properly during my crusade against dynamic range compression in 2006, after having them recommended to me as a band who’d made some wonderful-sounding records with the aid of engineer (never producer) Steve Albini. Sure enough, The Power Out and ‘Axes’ were beautifully-rendered, dynamic records of grooving, driving, krautish rhythms, alternately spindly / chugging guitars, careening organs, dabs of piano, and occasional yelps of punkish joy or drunk-sounding remorse, or Spanish poems, or lyrics in French. People often talk about records as sounding like they were recorded “live in a room”; this is never, ever the case more than with Electrelane (especially ‘Axes, which pretty much literally was improvised on the spot, I gather).

(Emma had a pre-The Power Out, pseudo-eponymous EP from after their fully-instrumental debut album; it featured “I Want To Be The President”, produced by Echoboy, a whirling swirl of electro-kraut that explodes in undulating pulses and buzzing plateaus of organ and bass, which is the first time they’d used vocals on a track. So, as with most things good in my life, it seems I nicked Electrelane off my wife.)

After a couple of months I was decidedly in love with Electrelane, and then news of a new record for 2007 emerged. I got in touch with their PR and arranged to be sent a promo copy so I could review it at Stylus – one of the few times I proactively sought out a record like this (I never felt like I had the authority of a proper music journalist; I was always just a particularly vocal and gobshitey fan in my own mind, even – especially – when I had an article reprinted in a book next to an article by David Byrne).

(David fucking Byrne!)

(I mention that here because it was the article about dynamic range compression and how we listen and what records sound like and how the sound and the listening affect each other – because that’s how I fell in love with Electrelane.)

They sent me some badges too, which I pinned to my rucksack, like a teenager. I was approaching my 28th birthday and in the process of buying a flat. No Shouts No Calls was recorded sans Albini, but still had that live, exciting, band-in-a-room sound, so live and real and raw and unlike the sound of mass(over)produced studio ‘rock’ records that we’ve come to know in the noughties that it (like their other records) could almost seem amateurish; the drums sound weird because that’s what drums actually sound like if you don’t compress them into a fraudulent smoosh.

No Shouts No Calls became my most-listened-to album of 2007, which is a hell of an accolade for a year that also saw the release of Atlas, Andorra, The Magic Position, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, The Sound Of Silver, and a whole host of other amazing records that you can read about elsewhere in this list. It feels like the most “song based” of their albums (where ‘Axes’ is the most “jam based”, possibly), the most emotionally honest and communicative. In part because it is an album of love songs – about moving to Gdansk, about what an heirloom from your grandmother means to you, about having to stall a relationship because it’s not quite working. There are groovy, saw-toothed instrumentals, of course, where Farfisa lock horns with guitars, but for the most part if feels like a collection of songs written together, about the same set of emotions and experiences. It might not be, of course. (Also, it has just about my favourite cover art of the noughties.)

The Power Out, despite coming before either, feels like a bridge between the songs of No Shouts No Calls and the grooves of ‘Axes’. It’s short and concise, and feels like the most philosophically experimental of their albums (‘experimental’ doesn’t just mean long songs, improvisations, and moodiness – though that does, inadvertently, describe ‘Axes’ pretty closely; apart from the bits that sound like a German punk incarnation of Penguin Café Orchestra). Partly this is because the aforementioned Spanish poem and French lyrics are on The Power Out, and partly because so is “The Valleys”, which is a thing of absolute wonder and spiritual wealth, one of those rare songs where I wish I’d been in the studio whilst it was being recorded, because it surely must have been spine-tingling and magical. If you’ve never heard it, it does this thing with some drums and some bass and this extraordinary, sublime, a capella choir over the top of it; you simply must, must, must seek it out.

I’d vaguely, tacitly promised myself I’d not choose more than one album per artist for this list, as it seemed silly to deny other artists. I compromised (with myself) to bundle albums by the same artist together, and focus on the one I liked best. If push came to shove, I’d probably pick The Power Out, but I’d much rather have them both. And ‘Axes’, and the EP too. (The debut I got much later, and liked well enough, but it seems like a rehearsal for the real thing next to its successors.)

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