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Pretty Girls Make Graves - Élan Vital Album Cover
Author's Rating
Vocals 9
Musicianship 9
Lyrics 8.5
Production 9
Creativity 8.25
Lasting Value 7.25
Reviewer Tilt 8.5
Final Verdict: 85%
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Inside AP.net

Pretty Girls Make Graves - Élan Vital

Reviewed by: Tony Pascarella (04/13/06)
Pretty Girls Make Graves - Élan Vital
Release Date: April 11, 2006
Record Label: Matador Records

So if grunge is dead, what exactly is the Pacific Northwest becoming? An indie rock paradise? If more bands like Pretty Girls Make Graves start to catch on in the area, the answer might just be yes. This versatile, spunky band have shown their mettle by dropping album after album (okay, just two in total) of top-notch material in Good Health (2002) and The New Romance (2003). They lost a guitarist and added keyboardist Leona Marrs for this new endeavor for Matador Records, titled Élan Vital.

Shimmering chaos might be the best way to categorize the opening of Élan Vital. Equally divided between Andrea Zollo’s urgent, acerbic vocals and the fusion of keyboards, guitar, bass, and the somewhat overused drumming of Nick Dewitt, “The Nocturnal House” is a little smoother and more inspired by indie-pop than we might have expected. Ms. Zollo drops the distortion on “Pyrite Pedestal,” which might be the most radio-friendly song we have heard yet from Pretty Girls Make Graves. Raw imagery helps this song keep from plodding along, although it does drag a bit. There aren’t any overly catchy choruses for you to latch onto, and it seems again like the true focus of the song is Nick Dewitt’s bludgeoning of the cymbals, not Andrea or any of the other band members.

With the ridiculously catchy toe-tapping melody found on “The Number” and the diluted, vocal-heavy call to action of “Parade,” it’s apparent that Pretty Girls Make Graves have found their voice, and it’s somewhere between enthusiastic post-punk (which shows up in pure form a lot less often—almost never—on Élan Vital) and soothing pop. Switching producers from Phil Ek (who did both previous albums as well as The Shins’ Chutes Too Narrow) to Colin Stewart allows the band further explore their creative side. “Domino” features a playful combination of keyboards and vocals in a loosely constructed, neo-disco package. “How do you like me, how do you like me now?” demands Zollo, seemingly seeking the listener’s opinion on their “new” sound. It’s not new in the sense that they’re dragging in genres they’ve never delved into, but Pretty Girls Make Graves definitely use Élan Vital to do some exploring and musical soul searching.

Despite parts of “Selling the Wind” sounding as if it might just morph into “Hava Nagila,” it still tends to be a solid song on the album, just featuring a bit too much accordion. Following two awful tracks and one average one is the nearly seven-minute album closer, “Bullet Charm.” Here, the band’s newfound sound becomes a detriment. It feels like they decided to mess with some dials and doohickeys until everything seemed sufficiently distorted, and then recorded the result. A blustery guitar riff that chimes in atop the bass line does a lot to save the song, but all the fuzziness definitely affects the vocals. Andrea Zollo has too remarkable of a voice to leave her wailing behind walls of noise, no matter what instruments you may bring in to accompany her.

Élan Vital is an album that PGMG have yearned to make since their inception, and they hit the nail on the head with what they wanted to do. It flows with far less restriction than on their previous works, and allows them to delve into certain musical spheres they had not really focused on prior to the new album. A good deal of the unadulterated aggression from The New Romance doesn’t find its way onto this much tamer record, and consequently, Élan Vital may disappoint some fans. Past work notwithstanding, it is also a very solid disc that I would recommend no matter what band penned it. Give the “new” Pretty Girls Make Graves an opportunity to impress you before you write them off. If you decide you don’t like it, at the very least, the sketchbook formula of Élan Vital will give the band a starting point for a fourth album that should blow any self-respecting music junkie’s socks off.

Buy Élan Vital on iTunes

Track List01. The Nocturnal House
02. Pyrite Pedestal
03. The Number
04. Parade
05. Domino
06. Interlude
07. The Magic Hour
08. Selling the Wind
09. Pearls on a Plate
10. Pictures of a Night Scene
11. Wildcat
12. Bullet Charm
 
Displaying posts 1 - 14 of 14
11:48 PM on 04/13/06
#2
The Rescue
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Good review. I have yet to hear the album; actually I'm just now listening to them for the first time via their purevolume page. I saw the cover the other day and was interested in checking them out haha. After this review and checking out some songs (all from their older albums though) I may have to pick this up.
11:51 PM on 04/13/06
#3
dontgrabtindy
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nice review
12:32 AM on 04/14/06
#4
Save my day
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Originally Posted by The Rescue
Good review. I have yet to hear the album; actually I'm just now listening to them for the first time via their purevolume page. I saw the cover the other day and was interested in checking them out haha. After this review and checking out some songs (all from their older albums though) I may have to pick this up.

Go for their earlier stuff first.
12:51 AM on 04/14/06
#5
Tony Pascarella
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I think you'll like the earlier stuff better because it's more aggressive. This is dream-poppier/a bit more experimental, and you'll appreciate it (or at least accept it) more if you've heard Good Health and The New Romance, both of which have some fairly upbeat, aggressive songs on them.
01:34 AM on 04/14/06
#6
capnshindig
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Pretty Girls Make Graves was my first show ever, with Alkaline Trio. Great show. This CD is really good, Parade is such a girly song...but it's my fucking jam.
05:03 AM on 04/14/06
#7
LilRyan732
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This CD was really tough to get through in one sitting. That's just my opinion though.

PS: I fucking love their C30 C60 C90 cover.
06:26 AM on 04/14/06
#8
joz
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the first time i listened to the album i knew it wasn't going to be quite the same since i'd heard nocturnal house beforehand and they had the new member and all.
i was quite disappointed on the first listen but after a few listens i really liked it, it was just a bit of a shock hearing their new sound.
i think the number is a great song and its cool that its their first single. theres not a track i dislike on their now except i sometimes skip past parade just because it sticks out a bit and i have to be in a certain mood to listen to it for some reason.
i absolutely love the photography:)
07:28 AM on 04/14/06
#9
CrucifiedHeart
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Originally Posted by Tony Pascarella
Following two awful tracks and one average one is the nearly seven-minute album closer, “Bullet Charm.”

You mean
09. Pearls on a Plate
10. Pictures of a Night Scene
?

I love those songs.....I actualy thought theyre some of the best on the album ahaha.....ah well

Anyways, I'm not gonna lie, I love this band, but I miss nathan's guitarring....the visceral riffing is one of the main reasons I was so into this band. All I can say about this album is,damn thats a whole lot of keys...
I still like it....but its not as intense or energetic as their previous albums, but at the same time, theyve improved on their ambience and textures.
09:26 AM on 04/14/06
Kyle Thrash
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im siked for this album. long time PGMG fan and i play synth in a band so anytime the keys are used to perfection im there to pick up the album.
09:54 AM on 04/14/06
so typical
...
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i been meaning to pick this up.
10:24 AM on 04/14/06
Tony Pascarella
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Originally Posted by CrucifiedHeart
You mean
09. Pearls on a Plate
10. Pictures of a Night Scene
?

I love those songs.....I actualy thought theyre some of the best on the album ahaha.....ah well

Anyways, I'm not gonna lie, I love this band, but I miss nathan's guitarring....the visceral riffing is one of the main reasons I was so into this band. All I can say about this album is,damn thats a whole lot of keys...
I still like it....but its not as intense or energetic as their previous albums, but at the same time, theyve improved on their ambience and textures.
I'm not a big fan of those two tracks but I think Wildcat, which follows is a little bit better. Your final comment kinda sums up how I feel about the album. It's different. We criticize bands for doing things different sometimes (but then we tear them apart for sticking to a tried and true formula); this seems like an in-between album to me, but it's still pretty good. If they can effectively mold the aggression of the last two albums with the ambience of this one, the next CD will be a fucking trip.
09:46 PM on 04/17/06
ramstar
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you know I don't think these songs are half bad, I didn't like them all that much on the first listen but they've grown on me in the past 2 months [yay for illegal downloading on soulseek.]
05:37 AM on 04/27/06
updownleftright
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maybe i should give it another listen, everyone seems to say its better after that. i was just so impressed with the drumming on new romance and then, it feels like he just gave up on this one
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