“A loss for words” and other such enthusiastic proclamations are overused hyperbole in our vast musicverse. Yes, we often encounter artists and music that leave us close to breathless, and perhaps this exaggeration merely enforces our enchantment with what has befallen our eyes and ears. Yet I am reluctant to jump forth with describing Munich-bred electronica outfit Lali Puna’s latest effort as leaving me at “a loss for words.” And it is not due to the fact that Faking the Books isn’t a mesmerizing listen, because it is, but because the eager need to find something to bookend with quotation marks has become a needless practice of tedious separation. If I had simply touted Faking the Books as “one of the year’s best” (which it is) without necessarily challenging it, questioning it, then perhaps it is not worthy of such praise.
What is important to note is that Faking the Books isn’t endless blips, loops, samples, and atmospheric experimentation. It is the album’s strongest quality; that while rooted in electronic music, Valerie Trebeljahr and company aren’t afraid to include more organic undertones. Portions of the album, noted in “B-Movie” and again in “Left Handed,” are strongly driven by a backbone of percussions, searing guitars, and more rudimentary songwriting, but layered with subtle hints of more luscious soundscapes. Perhaps the album’s most well-received track, “Call 1-800-FEAR,” actually sounds more like a great indie rock song than something conceived with mere key strokes.
It is however, when Trebeljahr and the rest of the group let loose their ability to create chilling environments of noise, sound, and echo that the album really shines. “People I Know” boasts great work in regards to sound reverberation and echo; skittering in and out of harmony and melody with the charm and wit to last the song’s entire duration (close to 5 minutes). And I’ve grown immensely fond of Lali Puna’s ability to be casual one moment, and distinctly challenging the next- the contrast is seen between the aforementioned “People I Know” and it’s following track “Grin and Bear;” which actually transfers in the opposite the direction (but effective nonetheless).
Strangely, the one track that amazes me the most is neither the album’s most uniquely testing, or one that can be called the defining moment of the release. It in fact, could very well be the album’s most subdued outing. I am referring to the opener, “Faking the Books,” a rather innocuous wave of melancholic, yet lustful serenity that seems to act as nothing more than opening bars; but what a beautiful beginning it is. It captures calm, paints pictures, and evokes sadness, all in lucid simplicity. And in alluding to one of my earlier statements, it is important for an album to be challenged. But not merely challenged for the sake of doing so- it has to MAKE you ask the questions, and Faking the Books has answers that do just that. I want to wonder why at times a song feels awkward in certain moods, and why during other moments the same song feels like the chilly morning breeze.
Electronic music has at times been perceived as “above” most other genres- some have created certain separation between this so-called “better” music and those who may toil beneath. But I honestly do not believe this to be true, and it has always been my perception that Lali Puna skate between two great bands; the beautiful pop aura of Stars and the radiant moods created by The Notwist. Maybe some may see these protagonists of music difficult to understand or conceive, thus creating this “post-The Bends Radiohead” syndrome where listeners are immediately put off by the absence of human generated music, and/or the lack of distinctive organized compositions. Unfortunately, those who partake in this sort of narrow thinking will ultimately miss out on great records like Faking the Books; it is more universal than one might think. Besides, pretension can, and is, often mistaken for sophistication.