Back in 1995, Elastica was the shit. Hyped as much for their taut, new wave songsmithery as they were for their liberal borrowing of Wire, they were, possibly, then what bands like The Strokes have become today. But after the explosion of their first, self-titled album, it took four years to make a follow-up, and a disappointing one at that. The band members went their separate ways, Justine Frischmann rubbing elbows with up-and-coming electroclash superstar M.I.A. and Donna Matthews forming Klang, a far more minimalistic vehicle for her songwriting. While the leap for Matthews isn’t as far-removed as one would expect, those expecting Elastica 2 should free themselves from any such misconceptions.
Rather than taking from Wire, Klang’s emphasis is on spacious, rubbery, repetitive compositions, similar to the likes of Krautrock forefathers Can. The chugging, choppy guitar riffs have been long-since abandoned for subdued, stark, (nearly) distortion-less arrangements. Matthews has taken the lead, this time around, singing stoically, though not expressionless. Her voice is like a rhythm instrument, rather than the lead, creating extra harmonies with the spare arrangements. In the 90 second title track, which begins No Sound is Heard, she trades verses with a repeating, twisting guitar riff and nothing else, creating a strange, but hypnotic harmony.
When the whole band is involved, however, the result isn’t what you’d expect. None of the songs are loud or dense, and each component is allowed its own room to breathe. “Waiting” is one of the few songs that comes close to actual rock music, as Matthews’ guitar dances fingertapped leads over a waltzing beat. But many of the songs are quite lovely in their simplicity, like “As These Things Happen,” which sees Matthews singing a parallel melody to the guitar riff she plays, while Keisuke Hiratsuka bangs a tom-heavy tribal beat underneath. Matthews’ lyrics almost seem to be a description of the song itself, as she sings “the music makes ways in silent/patterns are changed pieces to take us away.”
“Teach Me” finds the band trading in bass for odd percussion instruments, which may or may not be marimba and thumb piano. It’s hard to tell and it isn’t credited, but the closest comparison I can come up with is the “bone” percussion on Tom Waits’ “Clap Hands.” Another nearly-rock song is “Good and Evil,” which stays within Klang’s chosen volume, but does so with sinister, repeated basslines and throbbing synth echoing during the chorus. But just when it seems that the band is ready to put the song to bed, the distortion kicks in and gradually builds up, stopping abruptly just as you expect it to explode.
Other than Frischmann, I have no idea what all the other members of Elastica are doing about now, but none of them could possibly be creating something as stunning and mysterious as Matthews has with Klang. No Sound is Heard is challenging, peculiar music that practices “less is more” musical Feng Shui, doing away with any vestige of pretense left over from Matthews’ Britpop days. In a time when it’s easy to believe that nothing else could be done with music, Klang has proven us wrong.
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.