The two women who call themselves Mr. Airplane Man and the four who make up Electrelane go so far inside their respective sounds—dumpster-diving recidivism, skin-diving trance moves—they all but disappear into their own make-believe worlds. Trailing influences and personal effects behind them, they could be squinting back from the far side of a vanishing point—if they only would look up from their garage-sale keyboards, resoled go-go boots, and transistor-of-mercy radios blaring the toughest unreleased hits of 1966 or lost strains of Twin Peaks beach music.
C’mon DJ, Mr. Airplane Man’s third album, moves up from neo-primitivist grunt work by giving in to latent formalism. (Phrases like “She’s the one that’s got it” or “Show me the way to your heart” distill pop abandon to pure abstraction.) The CD cover frames guitarist-vocalist Margaret Garrett and drummer-organist Tara McManus against a groovy spiral backdrop recalling the old TV series Time Tunnel, much as the title cut jumps backwards from punk-fuzz drone to “Up Around the Bend” guitar lick to a one-finger Mysterian salute that rates 89 on the teardrop scale. “Don’t Know Why,” “How Long,” and “Sun Going Down” lumber along with airy single-mindedness, while “Wait for Your Love” and “Hang Up” have a concentric intensity that translates overkill into understatement. What differentiates Mr. Airplane Man from the blooze ‘n’ affectation school of rock is their selfless attitude, the novel absence of trope-a-dope posturing and smirk: Garrett and McManus would be perfect for an Aki Kaurismaki buddy road movie about a couple of nuns turned rockers.
Electrelane’s The Power Out lacks the rambling, narcotic kick of their previous Rock It to the Moon, where vocals were used only for coloration and the instruments caught ether in a bottle. Now they’re doing songs with audible lyrics, and “The Valleys” even throws in a daft choir. Guitar/organ point-woman Verity Susman sings in French, Spanish, and British with a clipped, familiar post-punk accent: This would have made the old Factory Records grade, nestled between New Order (“Gone Under Sea”) and the Durutti Column (renamed the Liberace Column for “You Make Me Weak at the Knees”). Images of carousels recur in Electrelane’s sleeve art, representing their preferred mode of transport: riding motifs like painted horses, up and down the merry-go-round of memory.