Album Reviews: Élan Vital by Pretty Girls Make GravesFor a band that has so regularly and eloquently mixed the ferocious with the exploratory, there was bound to come a point at which Pretty Girls Make Graves' inquisitiveness and evolution of sound was going to alienate long-time fans. At first listen, this album sounds far looser, less exact -- maybe even a little boring. But for PGMG to expand its sound, something had to break, and that element seems to have been the band's characteristic intensity.
Slowing down and loosening up is a risky move for a band like Pretty Girls Make Graves, and the greater emphasis on groove that is displayed throughout the album brings unfortunate comparisons to dance-punk to mind. Nearly half the tracks on this album have bottom-heavy, disco backbeats. Much of the post-hardcore that has, for many listeners, defined this band is gone. The metal-precise hooks are still here, but here they are more often integrated as parts into increasingly complex tracks.
It's important to remember that this is the band's first new album in nearly three years. Pretty Girls Make Graves has been on the road a lot in that period, and the band has subsequently become more talented as a group of musicians. It's not so much that the individual playing has gotten better, but more so that the arrangements are more sophisticated. The pieces fit together better here than ever before, particularly notable in the elements added by new keyboardist Leona Marrs, which seem to float in and out of these tracks, adding to texture to this band's increasingly multi-faceted sound. No doubt this will strike many as the album they were always afraid this band was going to make, but this first step toward breaking with a comfortable sound proves to be PGMG's most mature statement yet. - Cory O'Malley
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