Pretty Girls Make Graves - Elan Vital (Cover Artwork)

Pretty Girls Make Graves

Elan Vital (2006)


When I've seen Pretty Girls Make Graves perform, they have always put on a convincing live show, one that transfers their raw post-punk energy and excellent musicianship into a tangible experience. Singer Andrea Zollo never misses a note, while bassist Derek Fudesco demands attention thanks to his massive stature and constant swaying, and drummer Nick Dewitt always drops creative beats and unexpected changes. Still, what steals the attention of my eyes most were guitarists Jay Clark and Nathan Thelen. Just watching their hands, as they frantically scamper across the fret board like escaped prisoners not sure which way to run, is well worth the ticket price alone. Their dagger-like riffing is never muddled or off, but instead intersected in feats of post-punk angularity.

So, when word came that Thelen had left the band to spend more time with his daughter and was shortly thereafter replaced by multi-instrumentalist Leona Marrs, I began to worry. How could a band that was based around dual buzzsaw guitar spasms still possibly bring the rock when down one guitarist? Well, after hearing Elan Vital, I now know that Pretty Girls Make Graves have an array of tactics at their disposal, as shedding the description "guitar-driven" has left them with nothing but room to explore.

The new sound of Pretty Girls Make Graves is one that is much more rhythm-heavy and minimalist. Each instrument stands out nicely when played and seems wholly appropriate when restrained. Still, certain attributes of the band have not disappeared. Zollo's vocals are, as always, both beautiful and passionate, and while the band may seem a bit more relaxed on Elan Vital, Dewitt's drumming is far from mere backing in its innovative and driving approach.

Over the course of the album you will hear everything from building synth-driven pop ("Pyrite Pedestal"), to funk guitar-laced stomps ("Domino"), accordion-led rockers ("Selling the Wind") and eerie Cure-like dirges ("Pearls on a Plate"). Hell, even bassist Derek Fudesco takes over on lead vocals for perhaps Elan Vital's most sparse track "Pictures of a Night Scene." A thudding bass drum leads a song of minimal bass, piano, percussion, and saxophone blurts, while Fudesco ditches his signature yell for near whispered vocals.

The album's standout track however, may be the immediately catchy anthem of workers' revolt, "Parade." Lead by what is possibly Elan Vital's best melody, "Parade" offers nothing more than a repetitive keyboard line, pounding drum beat, and pulsing bass-line in the music department, yet its simplicity is easily surpassed by its accessibility and pop smarts.

Quite often musical experiments can blow up in a band's face, leaving the members looking like confused cartoon characters with sooty cheeks and singed hair. Luckily for Pretty Girls Make Graves the addition of new instrumentation, as well as exploring new approaches to songwriting, has left them not only unscathed, but with their most diverse and compelling release to date.