Comparing a band to Sleater-Kinney can be dangerous. The common observation that Band X "sounds like Sleater-Kinney" is usually not a sign of musical similarity so much as evidence of a still-prevalent tendency to ghettoize girl groups. If a band has a couple of female members and an electric guitar, it will probably get compared to Sleater-Kinney at some point.
In the case of England's Electrelane, however, the comparison is deserved, and for reasons that have nothing to do with gender: Both bands' work represents some of the most technically adept and creatively ambitious rock of the last 10 years. Fans of S-K will especially appreciate the moment during "After the Call," the third track on Electrelane's new album No Shouts No Calls, when the song's calm intro is hijacked by a skittish, meandering riff delivered in the same warbly guitar tone used to great effect on Dig Me Out and The Hot Rock.
Like The Hot Rock, No Shouts uses sea travel as a lyrical metaphor. "It gradually emerged that there were lots of nautical references in the lyrics," bassist Ros Murray explained while en route to a gig in Boston. "It was a natural thing, which was weird, because we wrote it in Berlin, which isn't near the sea at all. It comes up naturally when you're on tour, thinking of home when you're always moving. Being on a tour bus is sometimes like being on a boat."
No Shouts' centerpiece, the exhilarating, ebbing-and-flowing "At Sea," tells the story of a ship's crew preparing for a storm, and its cover art depicts a brig setting sail. Even the album's title has a nautical origin—albeit a surprising one.
"The name of the record is from a film that Verity [Susman, Electrelane's lyricist and singer] was watching on TV. She happened to be watching this film and the phrase 'no shouts, no calls' came up." It takes some prodding before Murray will own up to the movie in question. "Master and Commander," she finally confesses sheepishly. "Which isn't a good film."
No Shouts, by contrast, is more than good; it's Electrelane's best album. All of the band's sonic hallmarks (stately organ progressions, crisp drumming, frantic arpeggios, airy harmonies) resurface here, this time in the service of more consistently pop-oriented songs than those featured on their previous releases Axes, The Power Out, and the mostly instrumental Rock it to the Moon. The result is a cohesive, meticulously assembled whole that challenges the idea that old-fashioned albums have become irrelevant at best, and extinct at worst.
"We did want to make a real album," Murray stresses, explaining the band's investment in producing more than "just a bunch of songs" in this age of singles and shuffled MP3s. "A lot of people download loads and loads of stuff on the internet, but don't actually listen to any of it. That's something that's encouraged by downloading. It seems like the pinnacle of capitalism—even though you don't pay for it—in that it's about having as much stuff as possible that you don't need, and not even listening to it."
Whether played on an iPod or stereo or turntable, No Shouts No Calls aspires to more than consumption by rote, and rewards concentrated, repeated listening. Long live the album. And long live Electrelane.