One chilly September evening of last year, after an exhausting spell of particularly disappointing shows from which I've yet to entirely recover, I ventured with decidedly low expectations to Berbati's to see an evening of glossy magazine fare--the Ex, and before them, a four-piece band from Brighton called Electrelane. A little background: I'd spent several months in something of an internal sparring match with Electrelane, whose records and accompanying hype--despite many familiar stops on the touchstones of my personal taste (read: propulsive, kraut-flavored song structures, pop-grounded experimentalism, and a decidedly British highbrow)--had amounted to little more than a six-month yawn in my iTunes playlist. Still, for whatever reason--and it's probably due in no small part to their Anglo-baiting promo photos--something compelled me to hold out for the estrogen-fueled foursome, and I was about to find out why: that night, Electrelane played what was to be the most riveting show that I saw all year.
Though all of the band's members deserve credit for this remarkable feat--it was guitarist Mia Clarke, androidian in expression and precision, that made the evening totally fucking majestic. Searing through songs made unrecognizable by sheer dexterity and volume, Clarke crushed cock-dropping blues riffs with blank and swanlike grace--brilliantly emasculating every solo, every chord, by pinching off every ounce of swaggering rock-'n'-roll testosterone. She was, in that evening, the most compelling guitar player I have ever seen. And Electrelane was the greatest band.
And with that, I just knew that I finally got it--that I would rush home, put on The Power Out, their latest at the time, and every stunning facet would finally unfold. But then it didn't. The Power Out was still boring as shit. These were the same songs, yet played as if they were recorded in a nursing home during rest hours--whispered so as not to wake the neighbors. By their own admission, Electrelane is a live band, but this kind of disparity was just inexplicable.
In the time since, I've grown to love The Power Out for its subtlety, but have longed for the thrill of that blissed-out September night--a feeling that I finally get to take home with me in their latest, a recently released monster entitled Axes. Or rather, I almost get to. Clearly sensing the need to bridge the two faces of Electrelane, the band took to the studio with Steve Albini to record an album with a live sound--committing the record to tape linearly, from start to finish. The resulting record, while certainly more true to Electrelane's oft-searing live sound, is largely at the cost of the more dramatic developments seen on The Power Out--an unfortunate shift, but one easily forgiven when faced with Axes' most glorious moments. Still, their apparent inability to marry all of the disparate qualities remains a little frustrating; the definitive article of their sound--some nebulous collection of ideas grafted from their three full lengths combined with their live performance--seems yet to be fully realized on tape. It's a rather minor frustration for a band that, even in their failures, still manage a novelette's worth of compelling ideas nearly every time.