I think it was the constant news coverage of Paris Hilton going to jail that set off my renewed tirade on women in entertainment. How this girl, who is famous for no reason other than being ridiculously rich (correction: her parents’ being ridiculously rich), is what women and girls look up to? Admittedly, I wasn’t exactly looking up to Gloria Steinem growing up, but at least in eighth grade I had Gwen Stefani. For Christ’s sake, even the Spice Girls were encouraging ‘Girl Power!’ The Nineties even had a whole movement for strong, empowered women in music. I lament the fact that many of those groups are long gone, but every once in a while a group gives me hope.
Electrelane is one such group. In the absence of all-women bands like Sleater-Kinney and Bikini Kill and female-fronted groups like Pretty Girls Make Graves calling it quits, it’s refreshing to see an all female band come out with such an exquisite record. These Brighton lasses have released No Shouts, No Calls, an album that is by far one of their best to date. It’s a bright, accessible, highly melodic album that reinforces the need for great all women’s groups.
There are a lot of lazy comparisons between Electrelane and Stereolab. This comparison isn’t necessarily out of line, but I believe that there is much more to Electrelane than that. 2001’s Rock It to the Moon was an instrumental album that mined repetitive post-punk riffs and melded them together with bursts of jazz, krautrock and indie pop. Since that auspicious debut, the band has added vocals, embraced traditional song structures (2004’s The Power Out) and even went down a more challenging, darker path on 2005’s Axes. No Shouts, No Calls is a mature sum of all these parts. It’s an incredibly sophisticated album with no frills and added grittiness that gives it a nice charm.
No Shouts, No Calls was written and recorded in Berlin, its varied atmosphere making the album stand-out from the current music scene in England. Yet while their music isn’t in conversation with Britain’s present scene, it does have its roots in England’s post-punk era. Album opener, “The Greater Times” is a lush, warm organ driven song and the shimmering guitars are similar to those in New Order’s early albums. Vocalist Verity Susman at times even sounds like Elastica’s Justine Frischmann. There isn’t a cold, arty sheen over this album like so many Berlin-produced albums before it. Instead, No Shouts, No Calls is Electrelane’s warmest and most relatable. The album’s lead single,”To The East,” is a romantic (for them at least) song with Susman inviting the object of her affection to a hideaway where “it could be home for you and me.”
“After the Call” is a gritty rock song that recalls the aggression of grunge but with thin, wispy vocals. “Tram 21” is a delicious organ driven romp that reminds me of the best moments in Yo La Tengo’s I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass. One of the best songs is the moody “In Berlin.” Susman’s limited soprano sings lyrics that are almost unintelligible (something about freezing to death with a loved one), yet the dark cold mood comes through regardless. The music is a wonderful dance of the piano, strings, and sharp guitars. They shimmer and blend seamlessly together creating a singular setting for the song.
“Between the Wolf and the Dog” is a fiery, kinetic jam that harkens back to the instrumentals of Axes. The guitar work is lifted from heavy metal and cymbal happy drumming is a real treat. Once you hit the 2:20 mark, it gets reined in but it is no less fun. Instead, by tightening up the song it becomes a better showcase for the band. Another highlight is the unexpected “Cut and Run.” Using the ukulele, the song has a breezy glow despite its lovelorn lyrics. “Cut and Run” is the sound of a band that has become so comfortable with their sound that they are able to throw a little sunny curve ball like this.
A lot has been said of Electrelane’s limited musical and vocal ability, but after four albums has that really been a hindrance? These are women who have stretched their abilities and worked with their limitations instead of against them. Their albums have gotten progressively better and writing about their limitations has become pretty laughable given the sophistication on this album. On No Shouts, No Calls, it is evident that the band had learned to harness their energy to craft such tight, excellent songs that can connect with their audience. It is also so exciting to hear such a fantastic indie rock record made entirely by women.