October 3, 2022

Lali Puna– Faking the Books (Morr Music)

‘When I started, the idea was to take a bit of the four-to-the-floor element of techno and then try to make a pop song out of it’

(from Nov 2002 ‘Now’ interview with Valerie Trebeljahr)


Hands up if you’re a wuss.

Me too.

It can’t be long before some cleverdick collaboration between music and biology research departments will identify and isolate the precise synaptic nature of the link between those particular rhythmic and harmonic progressions and the limbic system which they seem able to zap with such overwhelming accuracy, synthesise it, and – da-dah – overnight redundancy of music as we know it. (Right.) All I know is, put on something like Radiohead’s Pyramid Song, My Bloody Valentine’s Sometimes, Massive Attack’s Protection, or Björk’s It’s Not Up To You, and it’s as if you’ve just broken my heart – again. Boo-hoo.

It’s at such moments – not necessarily convenient – that music like Lali Puna’s comes into its own. Kind of sympathetic but stern – come on, it seems to be saying, pull yourself together, keep up, look what you’re missing – there’s a whole wide world of mystifying dysfunctionality out there.

Grin and Bear – track 7 of Faking the Books, the third full-length album by this Munich-based quartet – is typical: a thoroughly toe-tapping conversion of a three-chord punk riff into a kind of melancholy gothic drone, with Valerie Trebeljahr’s finger-wagging whisper – ‘you’ve been told’ – gently chastising throughout.

If Warp Records has become the pater familias of electronic music, Morr Music is its hyperactive maverick nephew – a label that’s as much about poking you in the eye if you start to take it too seriously as it is about taking it seriously. But, overshadowed by bands like The Notwist and Ms John Soda, Lali Puna has seemed a bit of an also-ran for their first couple of releases (despite some incomprehensibly enthusiastic endorsements by Radiohead’s Colin Greenwood and Andrew Weatherall of Two Lone Swordsmen) – Tridecoder and Scary World Theory were by no means bad, but were only remarkable, really, for their being a further manifestation of the amazing ubiquity of the Acher brothers – Markus and Micha – who, between them, seem to be providing the instrumental architecture for half the Morr catalogue. Faking the Books, however, is to Tridecoder and Scary World Theory as OK Computer was to The Bends – a quantum evolutionary leap that, taken consecutively, quite takes your breath away. Where did that come from? Well – maybe not OK Computer – but way, way beyond the standard electro-pop, that very enjoyable but ultimately vacuous Lowfish-remixes-Solvent kind of thing. This owes a great deal to Markus Acher’s luminous, ever-questing guitar, but, first and foremost, it places Valerie Trebeljahr right where she belongs – front and centre. It’s as if she’s finally got over her shyness and discovered – yeah, I can do it, I can really, really do it. Which is a bit odd, considering that she’s been doing it now for – oh, going on eight or nine years, if you count the early days with her all-girl band, L.B.Page. But there you go. It was certainly worth the wait.

In the final analysis, it’s all about the lyrics and her voice, really: wonderfully strange, faintly disturbing lyrics, always slightly askew from reality, and, well, her three voices actually, often double-tracked – the one that’s the scary fascist robot-woman, the bastard child of Kraftwerk and Nico adopted by the Flying Lizards and Laurie Anderson – the one that’s a bit like Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab – and the one that’s all coy and whispery and barely legal and mercilessly exposes the Humbert Humbert in us all (ahem). Personally, I rather miss, in this album, the occasional Portuguese lyrics she used to throw in – like in Raparaigo de Banheira and Toca Discos from Tridecoder, or Contratempo from Scary World Theory; but as long as she can continue producing this sort of thing, I for one will be one happy little bunny …

…Wrapped in glassine paper / you should sleep before you go / the window shows the same blue / it would never do at home / 25 hours instead / 25 hours instead / Detroit on my mind / strange news from outside…

… from Geography 5 – track 8 – the shortest (barely two-and-a-half minutes) but one of my favourites – a breakthrough, of sorts, in that it’s so minimal it barely exists – cut right to the bone – essence of essence – just those words, set to a clanking, lugubrious drum-track, like a heavy freight-wagon moving at funereal walking pace over a dangerously-gapped track, with a wispy, scarcely-there keyboard placing careful, emollient chords like the gentlest of gentle consolatory fingertips at your temples, and stroking it all away.