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Barely a minute into The New Romance, the sophomore release from Seattle art-punk quintet Pretty Girls Make Graves, singer Andrea Zollo lays down her mantra. Over her band's pulsating groove, she repeatedly howls, "Make it electric" - following that demand by explaining - "I've got to know I'm still alive."

Over the course of this 12-song album, Pretty Girls take Zollo's exhortation to heart, and make it their mission statement. Formed from the remnants of several Pacific Northwest bands, including the much-admired Murder City Devils, Pretty Girls Make Graves come across as simultaneously raw and intricate. Their push-pull rhythms and caterwauling guitars recall At the Drive-In, but with a layer of intertwining six-string delicacy missing from that band's persistent attack.


The New Romance
Because Zollo's high, piercing vocals share superficial tonal attributes with those of Kathleen Hanna and Sleater-Kinney's Corin Tucker, it takes a while to appreciate her distinctiveness. Her non-sequitur, diary-entry lyrics don't add up to cogent storytelling, but they consistently sustain the group's dark urgency. Her toughness never feels like an affectation, and she effortlessly makes sex menacing, and menace sexy.

In "The Teeth Collector," she depicts an ex-lover's words as "cancer in my mouth," warning, "I'll pluck you like a dead bug from my feet."

Zollo's most persistent theme is the desperate need to seize the moment, even turning a heroin-addiction cautionary tale like "All Medicated Geniuses" into a lament for wasted opportunities, singing, "All motivations out to sea/and our ideas die so quickly."

It's not an insult to say that this band's name - derived from a Smiths song - is the most memorable thing about it: Because on The New Romance, the music isn't far behind. •

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