As evident in the title of Electrelane’s new odds `n sods collection, Singles, B-Sides & Live, the Brighton, England band doesn’t appear to be beating around the bush. Singles, B-Sides & Live is just that, and in that order, in fact, starting with early singles, moving on to the b-sides from those and later singles, and then peel sessions and live tracks. Of course, just because this collection doesn’t have a name as punchy as The Power Out, Axes or Rock It To the Moon doesn’t mean that the quality isn’t up to that of their usual output. Like most bands’ second-string material, Electrelane’s is full of intriguing surprises and wonderful gems.
So there’s the singles–“Film Music” starts it all off with instrumental, organ fueled spy-rock, somewhere between Stereolab’s early farfisa fuzz rock and John Barry’s Bond themes. And “Le Song” is more of the same, albeit dronier and more hypnotic, doing away with the noir themes and sticking to a repetitive fuzz trip-out. The real treat is “I Want to Be the President,” a funky electro number that excels in minimalist delights, and shows off the first real display of Verity Sussman’s vocals in an up-front setting. Give it two minutes and it explodes into a buzzing, robotic spazz breakdown with glitchy drum distortion and odd vocal effects.
Then there’s the b-sides. “Come On” drones with the best of ’em, and “I Love You My Farfisa” finds the band becoming more playful, adding vocoders on top of a surf-rock melody to strange effect. Later on, “I Only Always Think” goes for grace and beauty rather than buzzing, fuzzed-out rock, while “I’ve Been Your Fan Since Yesterday” glides along minimal drum beats and chilly piano plinks, Sussman’s voice like an apparition floating gently overhead. The band’s cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” rocks harder than most of the preceding tracks, but the downside to this song is how much it exposes the limitations to Sussman’s voice. Though she does finally let her pipes belt out a passionate wail by the bridge, the first verse is a bit rough.
And the live material? There’s the Peel Session of “Oh Sombra!” from The Power Out, one of that album’s more lovely tracks, dreamy and glimmering without as much of the manic distortion that colors much of their other material. Another cover arises, Roxy Music’s “More Than This” performed in San Francisco, and it’s a little wobbly, but rocks pretty hard all the same. The recording of “Those Pockets Are People/The Partisan” captures the band’s live energy best, charging from a loosely rocking affair to full-on overdrive mode, gradually gaining speed and volume.
As an album of singles, b-sides and live tracks, Singles, B-Sides & Live contains much in the way of great material, even if not all of it is indispensable. If it were, it would have made its way onto the band’s albums long ago, now wouldn’t it have? That’s beside the point. This is good music, from a good band, packaged without pretense, and that’ll do just fine.
Stereolab – Switched On
Th’ Faith Healers – Peel Sessions
Electrelane – Axes
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.