Happy-sad dynamics

Love Life don't dance

"I'm not the same person that gets on stage and performs every night," declares Katrina Ford, the enigmatic voice that channels the ominous rumble of Baltimore four-piece Love Life. "Something else takes over, and the same person who has to go home and clean my toilet isn't the same person on stage. And when I leave the stage, it stays there."

An identity crisis of such magnitude is fitting for a group as dramatically introspective as Love Life, who, by default, has been swept up in a scene dominated by a resurgence of new wave and dance-friendly rock. But just as Love Life finds inspiration in the same late-'70s/early-'80s post-punk sensibilities as many of its peers, the band's ambitions couldn't be more to the contrary. Their music is less about releasing energy than harnessing the tension that binds it together. And for a group who's more concerned with the mind than the body, the distinction means everything.

Love Life came about in 1999 when vocalist Katrina Ford and guitarist Sean Antanaitis parted ways with Chicago spazz-rockers Jaks and relocated to Baltimore. There the two joined forces with bassist Anthony Malat (formerly of Great Unraveling) and drummer Dave Bergander (Universal Order of Armageddon) to embark on a project unlike anything any of them had participated in before. Previous endeavors such as Jaks or UOA were filled with a sense of immediate, unrestrained urgency. Convulsive time changes and an impatient demeanor were the defining traits of their respective sounds, and they garnered comparisons to everyone from the Birthday Party to Brainiac. But in cultivating a new sound, Love Life switched gears, crafting tension and anxiety for a darker, more psychologically jarring approach.

By way of two full-length recordings — The Rose He Lied By and Here Is Night, Brothers, Here the Birds Burn — plus a heart-shaped 7-inch, Love Life documents an emotionally controlled environment that denies listeners any sense of release. As a result, the music encapsulates a singularly powerful outlet for a swelling apprehension that focuses on the means to an end, rather than the end itself.

"People don't go crazy at our shows," says Ford. "We like to hold everything back and pull the audience along as though something is going to happen, but never give it to them. The climax comes about in the process of getting there."

Songs such as "Listen Loudly," "Montag" and "Joy" lurch with the dexterity of a dirty engine fueled by murk and miasma. Thunderous bass lines and organ washes jostle about, seeping out exhaust that's toxic enough to choke any listener within range. As clunky, devastatingly brutal rhythms churn and tumble over each other, it's Ford that brings the tumultuous affair to a head — albeit an abstract one — with a voice that recalls the guttural dirge of Glenn Danzig and can take on the shrill elegance of Siouxsie Sioux.

Amid a backdrop of peers such as the Rapture, the Liars and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and comparisons to the Cure, Gang of Four and PiL, it would seem that Love Life is of the same breed. But while the group may be inspired by the same lineage, the comparisons end there.

"We don't fit in with most of those bands because we're such a downer," says Ford. "Those bands are creating music that's meant to help people forget about how horrible life is. Love Life doesn't do that; our music isn't conducive to dancing. What I want people to walk away with after seeing us is a feeling they've never felt before — but they kind of like it. Something irreverent, melancholy and introspective."