I bought Division of Laura Lee’s first Epitaph release a few days ago mostly because of a Kerrang! quote on the sticker attached to the outer cellophane that read: [Black City's] 12 tightly-wound retro-punk tracks mix the brooding sensuality of Girls Against Boys, with the dark atmospherics of Joy Division and the hip-shaking drive of latter-day Primal Scream.” With the nod from a respectable publication like Kerrang!, I figured this album was money. What I found was a band with a lot of promise, but whose collection of songs manifested a marked lack of focus.
Though I generally don’t think broad-brush categorization of bands and songs is always fair, one can loosely place each of the tracks on Black City into one of two classes. In the first class of songs, the allusion to Primal Scream was right on. Black City has a strong XTRMNTR aesthetic … and this is where Division of Laura Lee are the strongest. The opening track, Need to Get Some (download video and MP3 here), kicks it off with a grooving guitar lick that gets the head bobbing and leads into an animated sing-along rock stomp perfect for shakin’ it. If Per Halberg’s chants of “You need to get some / ‘Cuz everybody miss havin’ fun” don’t seal the deal for you, hand-claps and background police sirens will. Among this class of songs, some might be justified to argue that the layered guitars and dense atmospherics also recall, albeit rarely, the space/noise pop of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. And no doubt there’s a bit of the advertised GVSB on The Truth is F***’d (download MP3 here) and Wild and Crazy, in which Division of Laura Lee does its best to impersonate Girls Against Boys. But two of the better tracks in this first class of songs are slower-paced and instrumentally complex, especially in comparison to the songs in my second class below: Trapped In, arguably the best song on this album, boasts a sinister Spiritualized-style bassline, psychedelic swirling atmospherics, and contemplative vocals. In addition, organs, bongos, slide guitar and a sultry chorus make I Guess I’m Healed another highlight of the album.
In the second category of songs, however, Division of Laura Lee comes off sounding like a wholly different rock band — one with a harder modern rock edge clearly in the vein of the Swedish sound. This is not surprising in light of the band’s Swedish roots. With these songs, Division of Laura Lee tries to pull off a punker-than-thou swagger, their sound approaching that of the Hives and, to a much lesser extent, the International Noise Conspiracy. Granted, there are very agreeable tracks in this class; the unfortunate thing is that DoLL doesn’t quite do the Stooges/MC5 proto-punk sound as well as the Hives. Sure, there are some memorable sing-along choruses; it’s just that this sound has been done and redone… and better. Specifically, We’ve Been Planning This For Years, Second Rule Is and others are repetitive, uninnovative, and over-produced (the catchy background “yeah-yeahs” on the first of these notwithstanding).
Though another in the recent rash of signings of Swedish bands to prominent American labels, Division of Laura Lee clearly demonstrates that their style can differ from the sound of the band’s compatriots. But this effort falls noticeably short in cohesiveness and originality. If the band sticks to what it does best on its next effort, look out. For further reading, check out this interview with lead singer Per Halberg .