When it was released stateside in 2002, Division of Laura Lee's caustic debut album, 2001's Black City, sounded anonymous next to other much-hyped Swedish groups: The band lacked the idealistically retro politics of The (International) Noise Conspiracy, the delinquent nostalgia of The Raveonettes, the hippie-hobbitness of Soundtrack of Our Lives, and The Hives' ambitions for global domination-- not to mention their matching suits. The vaguely politicized punk of Black City certainly possessed ferocity and intensity, but toward no immediately apparent end. It wasn't that Division of Laura Lee didn't have a gimmick (which is certainly not required), but that they hadn't developed a collective identity-- or, if they had, they didn't seem to know how to convey it through music.
On their follow-up, Das Not Compute, that skittishness is gone. By mixing the Detroit punk they claim as a defining influence with decidedly British-sounding elements, the band have carved a niche for themselves somewhere between motor city punk and grandiose production. This is neither an original nor a safe move, but it's definitely an upgrade, and to their credit, Division of Laura Lee aren't as interested in sweeping, soaring art-rock as in capturing a more aggressive, dirty sound; the elements they borrow from contemporary, effects-laden indie rock merely add artillery to their attack.
A sculpted onslaught of stylized static, ghostly keyboards, and minor-key guitars highlight propulsive tracks like the opener, "Does Compute", and especially "Endless Factories", whose signature guitar line bridges the gap between The Bends and New Order. The surprisingly tender "Breathe Breathe" and "To the Other Side" (about the differences between Eastern and Western Europe) are quietly anthemic not-quite-ballads whose nearest kin might be Snow Patrol's "Run" or Coldplay's "In My Place". And the final track, "There's a Last Time for Everything", ends the album on an epic note and brings the band full circle-- thematically, at least-- to their debut EP, There's a First Time for Everything.
These newer influences ebb and flow throughout Das Not Compute, completely defining a song like "Endless Factories" while notably absent from the more streamlined tracks like "Sneaking Up on Mr. Prez". But the album proves consistent enough to cohere into a clear sonic statement, which has refocused Division of Laura Lee's songwriting, both structurally and lyrically. The band have learned to sharpen their hooks to gouge deep into the skin, making songs like "Does Compute" and "Dirty Love" sound simultaneously distinct, yet part of a larger whole.
Lyrically, Das Not Compute isn't nearly so consistent. Singer Per Stålberg crafts several awkward lines that don't seem to have translated very well, such as "Give me back my wisdom" from "Does Compute"-- although the barreling momentum and the infectiousness of the chorus make that line barely noticeable. On the other hand, "Dirty Love", which features The Cardigans' Nina Persson, hinges on a particularly poetic chorus: "I hate to see you blocking all the exits/ Turning into ghosts/ What can I do to get you on the dance floor?" Division of Laura Lee realize they aren't going to cure listener ennui, but they at least give the crowd a beat to dance to. And later in the song, when Stålberg asks, "What can I do to get you off the dance floor," it's unclear whether he's trying to bring the house down or foment a political movement.
Or, perhaps, both: For Division of Laura Lee-- as for their former Burning Heart cohorts (International) Noise Conspiracy-- politics and music are so closely twined as to be practically indistinguishable. By combining American punk, British art-rock, and Swedish smarts to beef up their already muscular sound, they've not only developed a distinctive sonic personality on Das Not Compute, but they've developed a pose into a stance.
-Stephen M. Deusner, May 17th, 2004