Pretty Girls Make Graves - Elan Vital Album Review
Pretty Girls Make Graves
Named after a Smiths song, which was in turn named after a line from Jack Kerouac's 'The Dharma Bums,' Pretty Girls Make Graves have a an artistic ambition similar to these great cultural visionaries, but as yet lack the balance that the aforementioned struck between the aesthetic model and underlying narrative that will see them remembered for many decades to come.
Having said this, there is much to be praised about this record. This brand of post-punk-art-rock often claims to be eclectic and experimental, but rarely delivers in this sense. 'Elan Vital' is one of those occasions when it does. PGMG are adventurous in their instrumentation and arrangements, and this is what makes an album of mostly average songs into a record that bears repeat listening. 'Selling the wind' eschews any conventional structure for a meandering exploration of an accordion theme, which is driven along, then brought to a juddering halt by PGMG's characteristic guitars and drums slicing their way through the mix. The track also features some of the most evocative lines in the record, 'I buy these winds/ to avenge my children and their ghosts / I stole these ships/ and every castle from their coast...' though evocative of what, I'm not entirely sure. It certainly shows an imagination brimming with some interesting imagery. Unfortunately for much of the record, the lyrics are obscured by amateurish vocal production that favours distortion and slapback over clarity. This is particularly apparent on opener 'Nocturnal House,' which clatters in with a promising dub guitar line (and a whistle), before a vaguely yelping vocal coated in distortion disappoints.
Although I am always one to applaud a thoughtful use of dynamics, instrumentation and structure, here it is unfortunately apparent that they have been used to distract attention from the lack of good songwriting . There are some memorable melodies, 'Pyrite Pedestal' and particularly the standout 'Parade'. The latter leaves behind the accordions and impatient drumming for a simple keyboard motif and marxist, but catchy vocal line 'throw down your brooms, hang up your aprons, workers of the North West, UNITE!' This is by far the most accessible song on this release, and proves that PGMG can indeed pen a good simple pop tune. The rest of the record doesn't match the use of dynamics with quality songwriting in the way that this genre's chiefs, At The Drive-In did. Pretty Girls Make Graves obviously have ability, ambition and imagination. However, despite this record's 'Elan', the deficit of songwriting means it is not particularly vital.
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