Black City

Division of Laura Lee

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Black City Review

by Karen E. Graves

While members of Division of Laura Lee sport pedigrees from outfits like the Smoke and Outstand, which don't necessarily carry much name recognition outside of Sweden, and have released a handful of European singles (and even a full-length in France), the group's 2002 effort, Black City, serves as their proper introduction to the United States market. Released by the same folks who introduced the Hives to the States, namely Burning Heart/Epitaph Records, it is inevitable that Division of Laura Lee is going to garner all sorts of comparisons to their black-and-white-clad countrymen. However, within the first 30 seconds of Black City it becomes quite obvious that the two bands are really very different. Whereas the Hives' approach to music is the sonic equivalent of a powder keg igniting, Division of Laura Lee has a longer, slower-burning fuse, making it obvious which one should have the better staying power. The Hives seem to have been constructed in an isolated suburban garage where the members were hermetically sealed inside with nothing but a turntable and a copy of the Nuggets box set (and maybe some Iggy Pop, Rolling Stones, New Bomb Turks, and Oblivians records), and while Division of Laura Lee may have been eavesdropping from outside of the door, they weren't as narrow in their musical diet, as their music is infused with shades of D.C. rock like Fugazi and Nation of Ulysses. Black City gets off to a rocking start with "Need to Get Some" and its restrained, steadily chugging riff. For its duration, the song ebbs and flows, building tension and threatening to explode, but ultimately it never quite combusts. Dramatic tension? Perhaps. But ultimately it just feels a little unsatisfying. "We've Been Planning This for Years," "Second Rule Is," and "Number One" are probably the closest Division of Laura Lee comes to sounding like the Hives, and while his pipes are fine, these songs prove that Per Stalberg just doesn't possess the swaggering roar that Howlin' Pelle Almqvist makes seem so effortless. Division's frontman instead tends toward sounding neatly disaffected. Laced with loops and keyboard effects, "Trapped In" slows things down to an unnervingly calm pulse as Stalberg backs off of his standard yell and instead lets the words fall drowsily off of his tongue. The result is like a reinvigorated, slightly mangled vision of swirling Brit psych-rock. "I Guess I'm Healed" treads a similar path with swirling guitar tones that evoke hints of Pink Floyd and The Bends-era Radiohead, at times. Minimalist and disarmingly haunting and pretty, "I Walk on Broken Glass" offers crisp, sad vocals, rather enchantingly vulnerable (almost feminine), not unlike some of Guy Picciotto's quiet moments in Fugazi. Teetering on the edge of art rock pretension, the song further proves that these boys are an eclectic, well-versed group to be reckoned with. Angular, mathy, post-rock guitar work and essentially spoken vocals come together on "Access Identity" and "The Truth Is Fucked," adding further credence to the theory that these boys have consumed their fair share of D.C. smart rock (though they skip screamo vocals in favor of a more laid-back approach), as well as plenty of Jesus & Mary Chain and Stone Roses. "If common sense means no control/You've got it," goes the anthemic, vaguely At the Drive-In-flavored chorus of album highlight "Black City." A strong debut effort, Black City covers a lot of musical ground over the space of its 12 songs, making it difficult to tag the band as merely garage, pseudo-prog, or post-rock. While the diversity of styles incorporated into their sound is appealing, the album tends to feel a little disjointed, never really settling into its own groove.

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