By JENNIFER KELLY
Seven years after Calla’s last album, Strength in Numbers, front man Aurelio Valle has come back to whisper again into our ears. As before, he insinuates elliptical lyrics against dark sonic textures, alternating caressing softness with the pitch and roll of slo-mo syncopation. A handful of these songs — “Bruised and Diffused,” “Deadbeat” and especially the lead single “Superhawk”— sound very Calla-like indeed, which is say desolately romantic, austere and lush at once.
Still others bear the mark of Valle’s time away, his experiments with soundtrackery, his essential solitude. The most familiar sounding tracks make you miss the soft, finger-picked bass of Calla’s Pete Gannon or the explosively irregular drumming of Wayne Magruder. Valle works, for the most part, by himself, building shimmering layers of electronically generated atmosphere. It is remarkable how band like he can make a tower of synths and drum machines sound, but there are intervals where the veil slips away and Acme Power Transmission becomes another technologically assisted bedroom project.
Better to take things all the way to the limit, as on the two brief moody intervals “Centuries” and “Kino” where Valle’s film score work comes to the fore. “Centuries” dawns woozily in abstracted strings and piano notes heard distantly, another room another time. “Kino” works in a similar diffuse palette, elongating tremulous string notes until they bend and shimmer, interspersing melancholy piano notes at wide interval. Both conjure a contemplative mood; both occupy more than transitional space.
I like, too, how Valle fuses his new fascination with electronics with his older propensities for moody, tempestuous indie rock. “Cowboy” occupies a space somewhere between Calla’s old material and West Coast electro-psych of Nobody and Dntel, while “Movement” tips Valle’s tendency towards twitch and syncopation into glossy minimalist R&B.
Valle was mostly on his own, but he did bring in one revelatory guest in Nina Persson from the Cardigans. Her “Electraglide” is striking for the way it melds everything you like about Calla — the hard driving drums, the sweeping sonic textures, the friction of noise, the deep ache of longing — with the timbre and personality of another singer. Acme Power Transmission draws on all of Valle’s strengths and channels them into new, disorienting paths. It’s exactly what you want from a singer who used to head a band you loved and now doesn’t. The same but different.
DOWNLOAD: “Electraglide,” “Superhawk”