Anyone expecting a drop-off in quality, a slackening of spirit, or a slump of any kind is going to be disappointed with Pretty Girls Make Graves' new album. From the first 30 dubbed-out, totally committed and ferocious seconds of "The Nocturnal House" it is clear that Pretty Girls are playing for all the marbles on Élan Vital. The overall excellence of their last album The New Romance presented the group a high hurdle to leap but they have flown over it like Edwin Moses in his prime. Equal parts post-punk inspired, early-'90s indie fueled, and punk forged, the band is tighter then ever and more expansive, too. They've kept all the fury and drive of their early sound and given it widescreen scope. (Just like on The New Romance but even more so.) Every member has improved their game measurably, but Andrea Zollo really shines; her vocals are more mature and assured but no less fiery and live-wire. Also, the addition of full-time keyboardist and sometime-backup-vocalist Leona Marrs has added a new dimension to their sound. She never plays too much, but adds perfectly placed accents and melodies. In fact, the whole band subscribes to that less-is-more philosophy, and they and producer Colin Stewart have crafted a perfectly arranged record. None of which would be more than merely admirable without songs that kick you in the guts and steal your mittens; Élan Vital has nothing but. Pretty Girls have written a raft of songs with big, fat hooks that you can almost hear the mall kids singing along with like "The Number," with its undeniably accurate "Because I want/And I don't know what I want/But when I want it I want it" chorus or "Parade," a rollicking f*ck-the-office anthem perfect for cubicle dwellers and anyone else stuck in the 9-to-5 world. Not content to stick to one style, they also drop a slinky disco tune ("Domino"), a thrashing post-hardcore-meets-prog call to arms ("Selling the Wind"), a dreamy indie electronic ballad ("Pearls on a Plate"), and a few songs that sound like no one except Pretty Girls ("Bullet Charm," "The Nocturnal House"). There aren't many post-punk influenced bands around that sound as original and as removed from their influences as Pretty Girls Make Graves. There also aren't many that could write an album jammed with so many memorable songs. There aren't many that have released one album as good as Élan Vital, let alone two in a row.
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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra