Elf Power formed in 1994 and over the last 16 years have released ten albums, two eps, a handful of singles, while also touring America, Europe, and Japan. The Athens, Georgia pioneers have readied their tenth studio album for release – a self-titled, dozen-song sonic totem, representing the group’s spiritual endurance and their continued relevance as the flagship band of the celebrated psych-rock scene, which they helped forge over a decade and a half ago. The new record conveys a unique synthesis of expansion and space, as deft rhythmic interplay, thoughtful instrumental flourishes, and subtle hands at the mixing-board frame all contribute to the Elves’ lithe, powerful folk-rock, and the frank, beautiful lyrical exposition that’s come to be expected from head songwriter Andrew Rieger.
Elf Power is dedicated to the memory of dear friend, mentor, and close collaborator Vic Chesnutt, who committed suicide in late 2009. Chesnutt was long a guiding light in the close-knit Athens community; the Elves recorded a collaborative album, “Dark Developments,” with Chesnutt in 2008 and toured extensively with him through the years. Elf Power’s latest album found shape in the vacuum caused by Vic’s loss, and finds the band exploring the void created by his departure.
Tracked initially byAndy LeMaster at his studio Chase Park Transduction, then brought to bassist/engineer Derek Almstead’s home studio out in the Athenian sticks for overdubbing, rumination, and general tweaking, this double-faceted strategy proved beneficial for the development of the album as a whole. LeMaster’s nearly-transparent sheen lent the record a fundamental sonic purity and muscularity that makes for great listening in the car. A return, however, to the familiar realms of home-recording encouraged the Elves to harken back to their initial experimental and communal forays.
Freedom from the tyranny of the ticking studio clock allowed for key contributions from old Elephant 6 pals Will Cullen Hart and Bill Doss and some characteristically esoteric instrumentation: John Fernandes’
and Heather McIntosh, contributing string arrangements and Laura Carter’s
contagious Moog and drummer Eric Harris’
experiments with fidelity and texture. This duality in production makes for a layered and varied listen.
Opening track “The Taking Under
” is an otherworldly collision of warped 1950s balladry and tripped out, cavernous drumming, pinned together by majestic string flourishes. “Wander Through
” is a frantic explosion of joyful noise, filled with wild riffing and bizarre sound effects. Songs like “Tiny Insects
” and “Ghost of John
” conjure a meeting between the heavy, dark and prog-informed pop of The Soft Boys’ “Underwater Moonlight
” and the fuzzed-out, giddy bedroom psych of New Zealand weirdos and Elf Power associates Tall Dwarves
. Gentler, more-pensive moments like the country-tinged, yet simultaneously futuristic, “Stranger in the Window
” and the heart-tearing “Little Hand
” allow the Elves to dive headlong into folk music that sounds at once both modern and traditional.
In terms of unlikely sonic execution, Elf Power makes literal what Andrew Rieger sings overtop of the cut-loose garage pop of “Goldmine in the Sun:” “the ending is hard to conceive.” Easy thumbnail comparisons such as these are handy; this record, however, is very much its own entity within a wider pantheon and the band’s formidable discography. Elf Power finds the group exploring darker places melodically and texturally in what might be their most fully conceived and rewarding album ever.
Elf Power sees release on September 14, 2010. American and European tours are scheduled for September and November respectively, with dates TBA.