Gallowsbird's Bark

Seattle's Pretty Girls Make Graves works in the jagged, minimalist medium of post-punk revivalism, at the juncture of emo-punk aggression and arty garage rock. It's a sound with some inherent limitations, primarily a tendency toward the brittle and unmelodic, but on the opening track of The New Romance, the band demonstrates how raw formalism can be put to use. "Something Bigger, Something Brighter" starts with alternating, rhythmically chiming guitar licks over a quiet martial drumbeat. Then Andrea Zollo comes in with her stunted croon, carrying the song to the moment when it jerks into driving brat-punk. Pretty Girls Make Graves tries out just about every trick of the trade in that song–handclaps, fuzzy organ, and moody bridges included–proving that even sounds that aren't fresh can be arranged into a composition with its own dramatic flow. Throughout The New Romance, the group crafts exciting, layered, tempo-shifting tracks where jolts replace hooks, but Zollo plays ringmaster, whispering and bellowing and enacting the stressed-out characters that populate her stark stage. The songs tend to bleed together, but Pretty Girls Make Graves applies its force well on a handful of jittery, catchy tracks, particularly "All Medicated Geniuses," "The Teeth Collector," and "This Is Our Emergency." The record is only disappointing in comparison to The Fiery Furnaces' debut, Gallowsbird's Bark, which is equally serrated but vastly more imaginative than much new rock. The group's sound is hard to pin down, except to say that it's a punky, bluesy, medieval-folky take on pub rock. Mostly, Gallowsbird's Bark is insistent and confident, sparked by the transgressive experience of traditional British folk music being systematically demolished. Brother-sister duo Eleanor and Matt Friedberger use whatever tools they can find to aid in the destruction, from the analog synthesizer, tumbling drums, discordant piano, and stinging blues guitar of "Leaky Tunnel" to the minimal piano-and-drum-machine funk of "Bow Wow." After 13 tracks of cheerful chaos, the record ends on a mellow, spooky note, starting with the shiny acoustic guitars and bluesy slide of "Tropical Ice-land," continuing through the doleful piano plunk and feedback whine of "Rub Alcohol Blues," and ending with the shrill, terrifying stomp of "We Got Back The Plague." The final trilogy is a sly summation of Gallowsbird's Bark: weird sounds in vaguely familiar patterns, describing the end of the world.

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