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Valleyheart

She Wants Revenge

Released May 23, 2011

Five Seven Music

By all rights, Los Angeles duo She Wants Revenge should trade in climaxes. The narratives of most of the songs on Valleyheart point dutifully at an acrobatic guitar solo or a cathartic spray of lovelorn bellowing that simply doesn’t arrive. The subwoofers are wired, but the bass never drops; the opener “Take The World” is five minutes spent absent-mindedly waiting for a gear change to kick. This furrow in their otherwise confident songwriting is baffling, but it makes the album sound like a series of promises breaking.

SWR’s genealogy is uncomplicated. Vocalist Justin Warfield’s ceremonious, Curtis-esque drawl, together with some familiar harmonic devices, recalls, of course, Joy Division or The Cure, but also the post-punk revival movement of the last decade, or perhaps a more rhythmic and less ambitious British Sea Power. There’s a reverberating twilight edge to the instrumentation, bringing a redolence of early gothic rockers Sisters Of Mercy.

SWR audibly quivers in the shadows cast by these other bands and their legacies, and the regal pace of the songs undermines their attempt to be a party-starter. The only lively tempo on the menu is “Suck It Up,” which compensates with its inexcusable and unmodulating six-minute length. Some of the lyrical matter slings itself just short of self-parody with its slack conventionality (“Your eyes, they tell me everything / The first, the last, and in between / That’s everything”) while some is a facile, tongue-chewing sort of cryptic (“It cuts so deep, and touches your insides / Shaken like leaves, afraid it’s the wrong time”). None are delivered with fervor. Coupled with the lacquerous production, this generates a curious detachment. One fantasizes that the maneuvers of a live show — imagine Warfield onstage wearing sunglasses and an anthemic demeanor, aiming the mic at the audience and coolly receiving their chanted reply — would also feel somewhat sparkless.

Only a few tracks keep Valleyheart from sounding like a forgotten by-product of the ’80s, stalled by the roadside while the more distinctive strode on. The album finds its legs and its voice with the flustered, creaky industrial blues of “Up In Flames” (“The canyons scream / And the alleys bleed at night”). “Little Stars,” which sports a tint of Black Holes-era Muse, is the only other track whose chord progressions bend from conciliatory major-key fairy tales into something stickier, and it suits.

Meanwhile, “Not Just A Girl” brings the full balladic arsenal out from behind the counter and makes most of the rest of the album sound skimpy. Vocal harmonies intertwine and disperse, passionate staccato strings mark time, and epic drum fills usher in elephantine choruses. A band capable of executing stirring arena pop this professionally should have better things to do than bore us with the iron-legged likes of the emotionless “Kiss Me” and the anodyne “Reasons.”

She Wants Revenge want too many things. They want to get you dancing, but their own feet are planted like trees. They want to make contemporary pop-rock, but they fashion a cloak of introversion from their influences. They want to be trusted, but they keep the listener at arm’s length. A handful of graceful moments are weighed down by the vaporous ballast that the album’s heart pumps. For these reasons, and despite its earnest efforts to steer clear of the middle of the road, Valleyheart totters into the miasma of dad-rock.