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Calla - Strength In Numbers

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Artist: Calla

Album: Strength In Numbers

Label: Beggars Banquet

Review date: Feb. 21, 2007


Calla's fifth full-length starts in a whistling, echoing tunnel of feedback, the big wah-wah twitching beat of "Sanctify" emerging out of shadowy gloom. It's a fitting start for an album that backs off from but doesn't entirely ditch Collision's arena size rock anthems, returning to the whispered sensuality and noise-flecked dissonance of Televise.

The core line-up from Collisions remains in place. Peter Gannon, who replaced original bassist Sean Donovan after Televise supplies a soft-toned pulse just under the surface of these songs. His bass intersects in abstract ways with Wayne Magruder's interesting, off-kilter drumming (particularly good in "Sleep in September"). The rest is a minimal tangle of guitar notes and Aurelio Valle's whispers, moans and insinuations. The combination is devastating, addictive and powerfully sexual.

That's the formula, and it's a good one, whether filtered through (relatively) straight-up rockers like "Bronson" or the caressing gloom of "Defenses Down" (which could have come right off Televise). Yet what makes Strength In Numbers interesting is the way it departs from the usual. "Rise" substitutes acoustic guitar strumming for electric, and interjects an almost buoyant string of "do-do-do" between downbeat verses. "Simone" has a churning, electro-beat buried under squawks of distortion. A sort of apocalyptic dance vibe percolates under it, synthesized beats augmenting the drumming. A pedal-altered guitar flicks in and out of the cut like a switchblade violent, foreboding, yet undeniably body-moving. Later, "La Gusta Del Fuego," one of the disc's best, has a clattering, chaotic feel to it, Valle's voice moves deep into the mix behind the drums as he mutters things like "only time will tell." It's not as elegant as some of Calla's work, but it feels rougher and more passionate.

As always, the lyrics focus on the darker side of love, infused with a doomed sort of romanticism that is nearly always disappointed. "Are you as two-faced as you seem?" runs the main line from "Simone," and the answer is almost surely yes. "Sylvia's Song" is particularly lovely, in its damaged way, as Valle describes smiles that have been slapped off people's faces and compromises made. Yet there's a rise in the drum-beaten coda to the song, a hope in the "and this is now or never." Love is a bitch, but it matters, and it's that recognition buried in sexual beats and whispers that travel right down your spine, that make Calla's music so intriguing.

By Jennifer Kelly

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