Lali Puna: Our Inventions
Morr Music

I'm of two minds about Lali Puna's Our Inventions: on the one hand, I'm disappointed the new material shows little if any significant advance beyond the group's third long-player Faking The Books, a disappointed exacerbated by the fact that the latter appeared more than half a decade ago; on the other, I'm generally content to have been treated to another helping of trademark Lali Puna songcraft, with the group—singer Valerie Trebeljahr, drummer Christoph Brandner (Tied & Tickled Trio), keyboard player Christian Heiß, and Markus Acher (The Notwist)—apparently subscribing to the old adage, “If it ain't broke, why fix it?”

That the album begins with a lullaby (“Rest Your Head”) is telling, as it suggests that the rather introspective Our Inventions isn't designed to fray nerves but rather soothe them. Here and elsewhere, the soft lilt of Trebeljahr's voice seduces, in this case as it merges with the song's clockwork rhythms and delicate synthetics. “Remember” offers a rare uptempo track with a driving, quasi-funky pulse a supple base for her whispered croon. Having grabbed one's attention with an opening filled with a strange electronic motif and bleepy synth melodies, “Move On” achieves lift-off in the chorus when she croons “Try, try harder they say” amidst a rich mix of vibraphones and electronics. On the other songs too, Lali Puna arranges acoustic and synthetic instruments into tasteful four-minute set-pieces with the judicious restraint of seasoned pros. The album concludes with two lovely songs, “That Day,” which finds the group in a breezy mode that comes so naturally to it, and “Out There,” a collaboration with Yellow Magic Orchestra's Yukihiro Takahashi that ultimately sounds more than anything like a prototypical Lali Puna composition.

The album's thematic focus on rapid technological development and the anxiety underlying peoples' Sisyphean attempt to keep pace with it are intimated in song titles alone (“Safe Tomorrow,” “Future Tense”), some of which are clearly meant to be read ironically. Lyrically “Everything Is Always” may decry the lasting impact of progress (“Nothing new / These days”) and “Our Inventions” likewise casts a wry and ironic eye upon the alienating impact of technologies we're all too anxious to embrace (“The birds in the trees / Singing our mobile melodies / What a sweet, sweet world”). But any turbulence the lyrical content adds to the album tends to be swept aside by the polish of the music itself, which feels studio-built rather than live, and the absence of urgency that would come from the latter is to some degree compensated for by the meticulousness of the songs' construction—there's certainly no shortage of studio expertise on display. On songwriting terms, it's a decent collection and Trebeljahr's singing is as lovely as ever. Still, few if any songs pop out as essential, and the album ultimately feels more like a serviceable outing as opposed to a major one (like 2001's Scary World Theory, for example). Even so, Our Inventions, though modest in length and ambition, proves hard to resist when its elegantly crafted songs unspool with such melodic grace and sonic allure.

March 2010