Androgyny Profound indeed from a true rock-chick

Elena’s second album is a remarkable piece of work. Firstly, it’s a second album with more mass-appeal than the first. Secondly, it’s a difficult second album full stop. Female-fronted rock can get a strange reaction, either lumped with indie groups, or with publicity based on looks over substance. Elena is something different, as the group produces some of the most strangely compelling dreamy outsider-rock today.

The vocals are a wonder in themselves, falling somewhere between a rocked-out Nico, Alison Goldfrapp’s sweet crooning, and Cerys Matthews’ husky drawl. They’re mercurial, hesitant, moving from delicate to powerful over the rest of a band. And they reflect the thoughtful, at times heartbreaking lyrics perfectly.

Next single ‘Pink Punk’ hits like a slap in the face, although you’re not quite sure what it is about it that gives it the eternal quality of a hit single. But whatever it is, it has it. And what a contrast, after the low-key start of ‘Song For You’. ‘Paint It Gold’ (song) is another mixture of low-fi starts and building into a rocked-out chorus. But unless you’re really into this formula, by mid-album you may find the vocals and single-riff songs a bit wearing, so maybe try this in small doses. Especially after the seemingly epic ‘Waiting to Meet You’.

But get to ‘Androgyny Profound’s mysterious growling opening, and the beat becomes more guitar-based dance for a moment, playing off the Goldfrapp-esque beats but with a dark, gravel-voiced sexiness rather than ethereal whimsy to the lyrics. With this album, the vocals are very much the centrepiece, and the music is a retro-feeling garage rock backing. ‘Fantastic Machine’ is a great example of the true garage feeling with a twist. ‘Close My Eyes’ is another example of the vocals creating a memorable riff with the guitars taking their cue from the singing. It’s a female, husky Stooges but with the lyrical sensibilities of Tom Petty.

It’s not a complete rock-fest, a lot of this is pop and ballads with distorted guitars, and it’s in those songs that ‘Paint It Gold’s (album) strengths lie. But the garage rock creates the stand-out tracks. Would it work without the distinctive vocals? Probably not, as they even overwhelm the lyrics. It would become very safe, very pop. But its success lies in that it treads the line between commercial and indie very well. Any doubts, and listen to the closer, a cover of Kim Carnes’ ‘Bette Davis Eyes’ and it’s all in the voice.