Electrelane is a bit of an oddity in British indie rock. Each album by the Brighton band takes a sharp left turn away from the one preceding it, yet still maintains an identifiable sound, if not a universally similar one. On their debut, Rock it to the Moon, the lasses played an all-instrumental space rock set, while the follow-up, the decidedly more accessible The Power Out, was a singles-friendly, angular post-punk record, equal parts Velvet Underground, Wire and Can. Now, a little more than a year later, Electrelane returns with Axes, an album that still retains the Velvets, Wire and Can influences, but in somewhat different proportions.
What Axes sacrifices in the way of taut, accessible singles, it makes up for in droning, instrumental Sonic Youth-like jams. And though vocals aren’t as ubiquitous on this set, they aren’t absent either, showing up whenever the band feels the need to augment their punky post-rock. The first actual pop song, “Bells,” is an instantly enjoyable tune with minimalist guitar riffs and plinking piano that gradually becomes heavier and heavier, though ever so slightly. The next track, “Two for Joy,” is equally wonderful, using a similarly simple chord progression, ultimately climaxing in psychedelic organ riffs a la Question Mark and the Mysterians.
Once you get to track 4, “If Not Now, When?”, Electrelane begins to sound like that first group that put out Rock it to the Moon. An aggressive, noodly instrumental song, it’s nice enough, but doesn’t carry the same structural weight as some of their Power Out tracks. I can see it being intense live, but on record, it doesn’t quite have the same effect. “Eight Steps,” however, has an interesting melody played on what could either be a harmonium or an accordion. Either way, it sounds like a punk rock sea chantey, an idea that has existed but never sounded this good until now. “Gone Darker” is another lengthy instrumental with some interesting bits of found sound and melodic build-up, but by this point, I’ve already begun to miss the vocals. Where did they go?
Layered “aaahs” give “Atom’s Tomb” some nice texture, as the band revs up into a Clinic-like repetition of distorted guitars and Krautrock grooves. It ends rather abruptly, while the scratchy “Business Or Otherwise” starts up. This track isn’t so much a song as a series of abrasive noises interrupting five-second silences. It’s more than just a little unsettling, which was probably the point. Vocals finally return in “Those Pockets Are People,” though they’re a bit buried in the mix, but the song segues into a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “The Partisan” that, admittedly, totally rocks.
Those familiar with Electrelane will find their layered, chaotic punk jams instantly enjoyable, even if vocalist Verity Sussman’s voice is scarcer this time around. But for those, like myself, who favored The Power Out over Rock It To the Moon, this album seems like a step back. Axes is, nonetheless, a competent and listenable effort, even if it could have been 15 minutes shorter.
Savage Republic – Ceremonial
Sonic Youth – Washing Machine
Mogwai – Come on Die Young
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.