Lali Puna

CD on Morr Music/Darla

Ever heard of Weilheim? This little town in Bavaria is to Germany what, say, Olympia, WA, is to the US: an unexpected hotbed of independent music. One of the many exciting acts to come out of Weilheim is Lali Puna: Valerie Trebeljahr (voice and keyboards), Markus Acher (of Notwist and Tied & Tickled Trio fame on bass and sampler), Christoph Brander (also in Console and Tied & Tickled) on drums and sampler, and Florian Zimmer on keyboards. Already on their first 7", the 1998 Snooze, Lali Puna provided a mix of Stereolab-ish space age soundscapes, playful blips and loops, and straight indie-pop. Their debut album Tridecoder is an exercise in how to combine influences from 80s synth-pop and post-punk and 90s techno, electronica and post-rock into near-perfect, accessible yet interesting songs for the Double-Naughts (or whatever the current decade is called). Trebeljahr, who was born in Korea (Lali Puna apparently means "Lali from Pusan") and raised in Lisbon, sings in both English ("for comprehension") and Portuguese ("for non-comprehension"). Her dreamy singsong voice, which often turns into a whisper, blends perfectly with the minimalist compositions, evoking the Velvet Underground's Nico with her accent and the Young Marble Giants' Alison Statton with her sweet delivery.

The first track ("6-0-3") and the last one ("Superlotado," or "overcrowded," possibly because the continuous hi-hats lend it a certain urgency) are perfect melodious/monotonous soundtrack for the German Autobahn. On "Everywhere & Allover" a New Order-circa-1981 bass line combines with a drawn-out synth melody and ever-changing percussion track to provide the foundation for Trebeljahr's whispered monologue of longing and bliss ("Everywhere and allover/ On top and under my skin/ Felt something like infinity/ With you nearby"). The most personal song yet is maybe "Fast Forward," where the themes of loss and loneliness ("I'm going/ fast forward alone in the dark/ There's no one/ around me by my side") combine with a string part to produce a beautifully sad pop song. Contrast this with the eminently danceable "System On" and the lighthearted "Rapariga de Banheira" ("Bathtub Girl"). Lali Puna also made an appearance on Stephin Merritt's Human League tribute project Reproductions, producing a cover of "Together in Electric Dreams" that is actually better than the original.

What makes Lali Puna so interesting, besides being so pleasant to listen to, is the way they synthesize such diverse influences—diverse both in sound and outlook—as techno, noisy indie rock, electronic experimentation, and plain sweet pop, in a perfectly balanced way. There is a sense that you've heard something like it before, but you can't put your finger on it. The closest you'd come is maybe Stereolab, and so it's not surprising that they have often been compared to Stereolab (a comparison that the band embraces). The convergence of electronica and indie rock has, of course, been coming for a long time. It is probably impossible to be part of this convergence without being compared to Stereolab. But one thing they certainly aren't is just a Stereolab knockoff. At any rate, at least judging by the picture in the liner notes, Trebeljahr is way hotter than Laetitia Sadier.

—DJ Lo Tec