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Pretty Girls Make Graves

Matador

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For an album that takes its name from a French philosophical idea about causation and evolution, Pretty Girls Make Graves’ new record feels like it’s headed nowhere. Elan Vital, a title borrowed from Henri Bergson that translates as “vital force,” offers a smattering of hand claps, lots of bass and drums, and seemingly misplaced accordion that point the wrong way on the evolutionary ladder. In the three years since the more rambunctious and cohesive The New Romance, guitarist Nathan Thelen left, and Pretty Girls gained keyboardist/pianist/accordionist Leona Marrs, who looks like lead vocalist Andrea Zollo’s first cousin. Marrs’ piano and keyboard are adequate replacements for Thelen’s guitar on songs such as “Domino,” but her accordion playing in “Selling the Wind” is more schlock than rock, especially when mixed in with yelled lyrics and heavy drums and bass. You almost expect Zollo to start singing about chimney sweeps and sailors lost at sea. “Parade” is a catchy, drum-heavy anthem about labor strikes that makes protests sound like a good ol’ time. “Been talking in the break room/Of labor and unrest and eyeing the clock/Are you OK with what you’ve got?” asks Zollo. She sounds ready to party when she cries “Mutiny!” The song is less about politics or economics than about getting people together, and, here, that’s OK. The record doesn’t make any grand statements, about unions or otherwise; instead, its goal seems to be finding a sound that can corral agitated kids onto the dance floor. Unfortunately, with Thelen’s departure, the loss of a second guitar may play a big part in making many of the songs sound less raucous than they seem to wish they were. Zollo tries to compensate with her yelling, and she comes closest to showing real verve on “Domino” when she cries, “How do you like me?/How do you like me nowww?” Nevertheless, her vocals lack the audacity of, say, Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O or the authority of Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker. Then, on tracks like “Pearls on a Plate,” PGMG’s efforts at slow and moody are sleepy and flat. Altogether it makes for a watered-down record that doesn’t deliver a coherent or especially interesting message. With tracks that don’t seem to need or play off each other, Elan Vital is lifeless.—Kim Rinehimer