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Élan Vital:Pretty Girls Make Graves

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Artist: Pretty Girls Make Graves

Date Released: April 11, 2006

Label: Matador

Produced By: Colin Stewart


  1. The Nocturnal House
  2. Pyrite Pedestal
  3. The Number
  4. Parade
  5. Domino
  6. The Magic Hour
  7. Selling the Wind
  8. Pearls on a Plate
  9. Pictures of a Night Scene
  10. Wildcat
  11. Bullet Charm


Soap operas usually aren't set out in the Pacific Northwest, but Seattle's Pretty Girls Make Graves have had a boxset's worth of episodes since The New Romance two years ago. It started with guitarist Nathan Thelen leaving the band shortly after the tour supporting The New Romance to stay home and care for his newborn child; Thelen was replaced by Les Savy Fav guitarist Seth Jabour for all remaining commitments; phantom album "The Shivering Duck" was scrapped when Hint Hint keyboardist Leona Marrs came in to record following a stint supporting Death Cab for Cutie on tour. Élan Vital is the album that fans have been waiting for since they originally said there would be an album out in October of '05.

The wait was worth it. "The Nocturnal House" (or "the whistle song" as it was known for some time) leads things off with a new kind of Pretty Girls Make Graves. Instead of anthems that scream to the listener in the vein of Good Health and some of the more immediate tracks of The New Romance, "The Nocturnal House" finds Andrea Zollo trapped behind a curtain of vocal distortion as Jason Clark's guitars echo only seen before on "Holy Nights." Even on the brilliant "Pyrite Pedestal," which on past albums would've exploded with vitality, the band patiently builds to one of the best conclusions of the year thus far and certainly one of the best of their careers. "The Number" rounds off the opening three songs, the best triumverate they've yet had.

Bassist Derek Fudesco claimed that "anything goes" was the attitude for the record and "Parade," devoid of guitars, shows that with a different approach to the "anthem" that the band made themselves the torchbearers of in the indie-rock community just three years ago. "Selling the Wind" will catch many off-guard with its accordion, the handiwork of drummer Nick DeWitt. "Pearls on a Plate" is an especially poignant moment with Zollo again being featured (and it's true what you've heard that she is all over this album), yet again it is the closing song that leaves the listener wanting that much more: "Bullet Charm" is a fantastic finale, worthy of its near-seven minute run-time, and epic in a way only Pretty Girls Make Graves seem to be able to deliver these days.

The bottom line is, yes, it is different. But to allay any apprehensions, it is a good different. Thelen is known to be "always welcome back" to the band, but at this point even the lack of a second guitarist doesn't seem to be diminishing the returns... And anyway, Thelen supposedly works in the Beehive Vaults now (such is the incestuousness of Seattle's scene). And as for Pretty Girls Make Graves, well, they've faced new members (Marrs was prefaced by the brief appearance of a keyboardist named Lorna), a new recording process, a new sound, and a new outlook. It would be poetic justice that they now find many new fans as well. For the survival of a great band, we as a public can only hope. PMasterson

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