Pretty Girls Make Graves: Élan Vital

Pretty Girls Make Graves
Élan Vital

The first time I saw this clamorous Seattle post-punk outfit play, I fainted. This wasn't actually their fault, withering as the band's live show may have been: Holding down a second-stage spot on a broiling July afternoon at Coney Island during the Village Voice's 2002 Siren Music Festival, Pretty Girls Make Graves simply soundtracked my dehydration. But that sort of visceral reaction is what frontwoman Andrea Zollo and her bandmates—devout followers of Fugazi and Bikini Kill, and longtime veterans of in-your-face DIY basement shows—seemed to aim for back in those days. The title of "Speakers Push the Air," a tune from '02's Good Health, is as astute a description of music's physical power as I've heard.

Alas, as the newly art-rocking Yeah Yeah Yeahs demonstrate on the contemplative Show Your Bones, even post-punks get old—a process by which visceral physical reaction often takes a back seat to measured introspection and funny keyboard noises. Indeed, Élan Vital finds the Pretty Girls roster up one pretty girl: synth lady Leona Marrs (a former member of dance-punk also-rans Hint Hint), whose noodly texture making complicates the band's once-straightforward sound. She anchors "Domino" with a bouncy piano pattern that feels sampled from some out-of-print house 12-inch, gives "Pictures of a Night Scene" a creepy Nick Cave vibe, and studs "Pyrite Pedestal" with lonely-sounding Kid A plinks that play against Zollo's tough-girl delivery.

But it's not just Marrs. Throughout Élan, guitarist Jason Clark moves beyond the old three-chord chug-a-lug, leaning on his delay pedal like the Edge in opener "The Nocturnal House," while bassist Derek Fudesco lends "Parade" a groovy sense of Motown motion. And Zollo, once the band's screeching team captain, here sings more than she screams. There are traces of the Girls' old all-ages vim, as in "The Number," which Marrs keeps threatening to turn into the Go-Go's' "Head over Heels." (The tune also features some great Gen Y sloganeering from Zollo: "Because I want, and I don't know what I want/But when I want it, I want it.") Mostly, though, Élan Vital charts the band's mild-style mellowing.