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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Lali Puna -- Faking the Books

 photo 220px-LaliPuna-FakingtheBooks_zps8cc2f014.jpg

I picked up Lali Puna's Faking the Books shortly after its release because Radiohead told me to, and also because, at the time, I agreed with Lali Puna's politics. Lali Puna are based out of Munich, Germany, one of my favorite cities in the world (all the German-ribbing I do on The Nicsperiment is good-natured...I'm quite fond of that place), and I'm not usually one for loving cities.. Lali Puna are a rock band that employ a lot of keyboard, generally in place of the guitar (but not exclusively...there is still a bit of guitar in the mix). Wikipedia says Lali Puna is "electro-pop," and back when this came out, "hip" people were calling them IDM or EDM or something with three letters, but they have a bassist and a backbeat played by a live drummer, and their vocal hooks aren't very poppy, so whatever, cool people, Lali Puna are a rock band. Puna's songs...Lali Puna is a weird name...anyway, Puna's songs are about what living in a George W Bush-era America is like...for completely unaffected arty people living in a large German city. Politics aside, the band also explore the mechanization and dehumanization of life. This leads to their greatest musical flaw. Despite the fact that Faking the Books balances out its slower, tripper songs with some faster-paced jams, the album often feels like it lacks energy. After a decade, I think I've pinpointed the reason: their vocalist, Valerie Trebljahr, sings with a whispery monotone that sucks the life out of a lot of their songs. Don't get me wrong, dead-eyed female vocals can sound incredibly cool, but over the course of 11 songs, they can start to drain. Case in point, album centerpiece, "Grin and Bear."

Instrumentally, "Grin and Bear" hits on all cylinders, creating a sleek, building atmosphere that  is primed to explode during the song's extended outro. As Trabljahr repeats the song's final line, "We won't return here," all she has to do is emote. She doesn't, though. She sounds like she is leaving a fast-food restaurant who's service she is mildly dissatisfied with, and whispering the line into her mother's ear. She should be belting out these lyrics. The band loaded the gun, and she is disinterestedly taking out the bullets, hiding them in the sock drawer. However, it's not really until that moment that Trebjahr's vocals wear out their welcome.
Up until that point, they are, as stated earlier, quite cool. "Micronomic," the album's single, received a fittingly cool video. It's a highpoint on an album that's just a little too cool for its own good.
Meaning, her voice makes the songs a little too cold and distant. You got that from that sentence, right? Wasting all my good metaphors...grumble...grumble...

2004 Morr Music
1. Faking the Books 4:00
2. Call 1-800-Fear 3:24
3. Micronomic 3:23
4. Small Things 3:40
5. B-Movie 3:13
6. People I Know 3:05
7. Grin and Bear 4:41
8. Geography-5 2:27
9. Left Handed 3:44
10. Alienation 4:01
11. Crawling by Numbers 2:52

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