Seattle-based Pretty Girls Make Graves have crafted a third album that is both distinctly rooted in the musical vibes of the Pacific Northwest but also distinct, period. They simultaneously embrace and betray the influence of their contemporaries, while soaring above those influences. The title borrows from a French phrase meaning "the impulse of life" and fittingly, the album is bursting with "elan vital." Pretty Girls Make Graves have decidedly proven that they are a leader in the evolution of American music.
Elan Vital begins with "The Nocturnal House," which is representative of Pretty Girls' sound. Centered on atmospheric guitar riffs and beat-driven vocals, "The Nocturnal House" recalls The Mars Volta, but just barely. The song showcases the band's ability to use their musical influences without falling captive to them. Elan Vital quickly shifts gears on the next few songs, delving into indie-pop territory. They particularly shine on "Parade," a triumphant pop ditty sung over minimalistic keyboards, bass and drums. The delicious harmonies on "Parade" should easily catapult it into indie-pop fame. The second half of the album features everything from movie-soundtrack ballads to buzz-saw guitar anthems to obscure instruments, all of it wowing.
Even an instrumental interlude more than meets expectations. Similar interludes or instrumentals from other indie acts (I'm thinking of Spoon's "This Book is a Movie" from Girls Can Tell) fall flat next to this one. Elan Vital is a breath of fresh air in a genre that often gets claustrophobic. Out of the chaotic cacophony that is the indie music world, Pretty Girls Make Graves just might emerge as your new favorite band.