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Puna: Two Windows (Morr Music)

Puna has always skirted the periphery of IDM and indie-pop, never
quite splashing in any way that’s yielded significant acclaim. And
yet their music always exudes a quiet confidence, carried by their
laptoppy arrangements and singer Valerie Trebeljahr’s breathy vocals.
While one might have traced a trajectory across their discography
that moved from being almost entirely electronic to progressively
more of a band format, perhaps influenced by Markus Acher’s work in his primary project The Notwist. Acher and Trebeljahr separated in the time between
Two Windows and Lali Puna’s previous release, 2010’s Our Inventions,
and as a result, Acher is also absent on Two Windows. This lends the
album a distinctly different flavor that’s immediately apparent on
the opening title cut. During an age where most primarily electronic
acts seem to embrace traditional songwriting and instruments as a
forced sort of trajectory, it’s refreshing to hear Lali Puna as a
trio revert to a keenly electronic focus moving forward. Acher’s
guitar work is conspicuously absent, but the trio make up for it with
full-bodied arrangements that still very much feel like a realization
of Trebeljahr and long-time musical partners Christoph Brandner and Christian Heiß’s collective vision.

Two Windows by Lali Puna

It’s not to say that Two Windows is purely electronic; there are still other instruments integrated into their production, but it definitely
takes a backseat to layered electronics. So while no doubt Acher and
Trebeljahr’s separation shook things up for her (both musically and
personally), that change may have been a compelling enabler in advancing
Lali Puna into a new phase of their sound without losing their
identity. Even some of the less surprising tracks like “Her Daily
Black” feel infused with a bit of new life, a fidgety energy that’s
evoked through detailed vocal stutters and bulbous synth swells as
its rhythm section picks up momentum. My favorites are those cuts
that reinfuse the band’s sound with a stronger pulse, recalling the
dance music flirtations of their underrated debut, Tridecoder, but
updated to sound current, often brimming with fat synth bass, clear hand
claps, and punchier rhythmic details. Even as Trebeljahr continues to
sing with a breathy, hushed vocal on “Deep Dream,” a
collaboration with Dntel (Jimmy Tamborello), the buoyancy of its
production lends it a refreshing immediacy when compared to some of
their more typical mid-tempo material, and even then their sonic
palette feels edgier and more sprightly. The album boasts additional
collaborations with Mary Lattimore, Radioactive Man (Keith Tenniswood
of Two Lone Swordsmen), and Mimicof, and they fit neatly into the
tracklisting without sounding like any one of them is vying for more
attention. Much of this has to do with Trebeljahr never relinquishing
vocal duties, her breathy voice always providing an anchor as the
soul of the music. I do find my attention waning by the time the
album has fully played through, even with the welcome updates to
their sound, but that is more a testament to their consistency and my
attention span than a complaint. Even still, “Birds Flying High”
also delivers a punchier result falling later in the album, a more
rousing cut full of little vocal details that precedes the album’s
final stretch which curiously includes a decidedly unfaithful cover
of Kings of Leon’s “The Bucket.” I’ve always felt that Lali Puna
has flown too low under the radar in the pop music landscape, never
really receiving their proper dues. Two Windows reinforces that
opinion with renewed enthusiasm, one of their strongest efforts to
date. Fans of their more rock-infused albums might be surprised by
the minimal amount of guitar and a more overtly electronic slant, but
to my ears it’s great to hear them advancing their sound and sounding
more confident than ever.

Buy it: Bandcamp