Since first emerging in a musical environment that favored different flavors of post-punk, Pretty Girls Make Graves has always been an odd fit. After debuting on the long-lived punk label Lookout, the band seemed to skip ahead several evolutionary steps prior to releasing 2003's The New Romance, a sophomore album that let elements from various early-'80s revivals mutate into the group's DNA until a new, barely recognizable form emerged. Élan Vital continues that process, bringing in everything from dubby echo effects to accordions to Andrea Zollo's sometimes lush, sometimes abrasive, always passionate vocals.
The band hasn't forgotten how to make memorable songs in the process, either. Many of Élan Vital's tracks take their cues from The New Romance's anthemic "This Is Our Emergency," never letting the oddball touches get in the way of the forward momentum. "Pyrite Pedestal" contains a reference to "stygian shores," while "Domino" houses an almost drone-like guitar solo, but the beat brings the point home beneath all the eccentricities. On "Parade," Zollo sings about oppressed masses throwing down their push-brooms. The sentiment sounds forced, but the song is undeniable; the band's sense of responsibility to rhythm and drive is what truly gives it the common touch.