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A serious, smoldering sonic wall

From the beginning of the opening number, ''Bells," it was clear that the members of the British quartet Electrelane had little use for the crowd standing in front of them at the Middle East Sunday night. Leader Verity Susman pushed her hair out of her face and mumbled a few pleasantries to her devout followers, but those were quickly followed by a sonic wall that rarely moved the remainder of the night.

In near darkness, Susman, playing keyboard, guitar, and even saxophone, defined the show with precipitous mood swings. Giddy synth pop was buried by layers of dour guitars and thunderclaps of drums, only to emerge a few minutes later before going under in another angry wave. These dueling forces are the lighter fluid and the match that keep Electrelane's dense music smoldering. It's a battle that emerges in nearly all of the band's songs: melodic vs. dissonant, calm vs. cacophonous.

Electrelane was not interested in pacing or giving its audience an opportunity to fully digest the barrage of dense, repetitive songs. Often, one song simply bled into another in a manner that suggested the all-female band had neither the time nor the need to receive applause.

Is Electrelane too serious for its own good? After all, this is a band that played for nearly an hour and a half without looking at its audience. With studied concentration, the members kept their eyes carefully trained on Susman (except for guitarist Mia Clarke, who simply looked through her bangs at the floor) and dutifully exploded with energy when she began thrashing over her keyboard.

But the reward for accepting them on their own difficult terms was the opportunity to observe their virtuosity. The sinister ''Gone Darker" was a menacing, claustrophobic exercise in progressive jazz-rock that, while difficult to fully absorb, unfolded with the thrilling energy of a manic housewife ripping through layers of phyllo dough. There was no cuddliness, bonding, or humor to be had, but there was a mass hypnotism through beautifully dark music that was impossible to resist.

Christopher Muther can be reached at

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