Way back in the day, and by that I mean about 15 years ago, I always had Elf Power in my listening rotation. Somehow, they drifted a bit, or I drifted a bit, but on their new single, it’s really taking me back…might have to crack open my CD storage. While the track opens with this ornate bit of piano, vocals join in to carry the beauty. Suddenly, you’re halted, distortion rings atop the piano and the song grows fuzzy, matching the track’s video portrayal. And then, done. Quick substance, quick hit, then back to the next track. This is how I fell in love with the band, and I’m ready to do so all over again. Their new album, Twitching in Time will be released on May 12th via Orange Twin.
I’ve spent the last month listening to Antlered Aunt Lord and his new record Ostensibly Formerly Stunted (and on fire). While I already love many of the songs, it was the album that really burrowed into my soul. On one hand it has the oddity and the brevity of early Elf Power, but on the other hand I want to compare it to Nothing Wrong with Love (my favorite Built to Spill) record. It’s a listen that can’t be defined, that can’t be pigeonholed, only enjoyed. I have a feeling that as much as I’ve played it already, it’s going to continue to be in constant rotation throughout the duration of my life. Yeah, I said it. You can grab the record this week from HHBTM Records.
There comes a time in every music nerd’s life (hopefully more often than once) where you find a record that completely fulfills you, that brings you back time and time again to listen carefully; for me, that record is Posthumous Release. Coma Cinema is the project of Mathew Cothran, and I’ll do my best to give justice to this incredible album, though I’m not sure if even words can suffice.
“VHS White Trash” opens up the entire affair, and it’s here where I first notice a resemblance to the old Elf Power, back when they were weird. But, that being said, the simple accompaniment, the female backing vocals and simply strummed guitar don’t sound weird, other than the lyrical content. Percussion enters midway through, as do some horn touches, making this the perfect opening number; I know I pressed play again and again just to make sure it was as perfect as I thought. My ears also heard a bit of Elliott Smith in Posthumous Release, especially when I listened to “Virgin Veins.” The sound of the guitar sounds eerily similar, as does the whispering quality of Cothran’s voice. There’s a fragility to his songwriting and his delivery, as if he’s bearing his soul before you; it’s a sincerity I’ve longed for for quite some time. You’ll find that same sentiment in “Partners in Crime;” it stood out to me in this manner from the exhale of breath that opens the track, not to mention the slightest crackle in the voice.
While it may seem that Coma Cinema has a down-trodden attitude, Mat realizes that he’s also got a knack for combining his melodies with peppier bits tossed in sporadically throughout his latest effort. “She Keeps It Alive” has a fuzzed out guitar chug to it that provides more momentum than most of the songs you’ll find here, though it’s not quite a full on rock moment. Still, you don’t have to turn things up loud in order to seduce me with your pop sensibility. In “Satan Made a Mansion” I’ve met my match for my adoration of quirky lyrics and catchy melodies. Build around a piano or keyboard, the song has a bounce, and the melody in the vocals does everything it can to make this the best song of the year (it is in my opinion). I like the cascading guitar solo near the end of the tune, but I’m not ever going to forget the lyric of “fuck me in the graveyard.”
You see, Posthumous Release might very well go unnoticed upon hitting the stores, and I’ll declare that a great tragedy. This is one of those records that, while not perfect, has the precise amount of emotion and songwriting that makes you want to share it with all your friends. You’ll want to make mixtapes with just this album; you’ll want to make sure everyone you meet knows all about Coma Cinema. I hope that it’s a huge success, though at the same time, I won’t cry if I’m one of a handful of people who enjoys it. I’ll continue to play this album until the day I die, and I’ll always have that sentiment…few records have had such an effect on me.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/05-A05-Satan-Made-A-Mansion.mp3]
Download: Coma Cinema – Satan Made A Mansion [MP3]
The last time that we heard from Athens’ band Elf Power, they were trying to get a little bit more of an orchestrated sound on record, but it didn’t necessarily go over so well; it did sound a bit generic, if not mainstream, for fans familiar with the band’s earliest works. But, they return today with a self-titled record, hoping to get things going back on track. We’re hoping for the same.
When you walk into this record, it’s clear that there’s still that element of creative arrangements, held over for the last time. “Boots of Lead” doesn’t necessarily push boundaries, but the meandering guitar line and Andrew Rieger’s softly hoarse vocals establish a bit of that old Elf Power magic. We’re not entirely asking the band to abandon cleaner production, in fact, it probably has helped the band gain a larger audience. So, when you get the electronic drenched “The Concrete and the Walls” you’re happy to see that the somewhat awkward delivery and rhythm have returned to the fold. They even have an odd bit of a breakdown near the end of the track, just to switch the mood for listeners, taking on a darker spirit.
They’ve definitely taken on a softer quality, or one that veers far from the lo-fi approach. You can tell the work of Vic Chesnutt has definitely had an impact on their songwriting, especially with songs like “Ghost of John.” They use a great melody to go with what appears to be quick strummed acoustic guitar, and Rieger’s voice has this whispering politeness to it, as if he’s asking your permission to go with the band as they push through Elf Power. Yet despite their subtle changes in songwriting, they can combine this new-found docile approach to their old clever ways. “Stranger in the Window” is perhaps one of the best songs they’ve written thanks to such moves. Once again, acoustic guitars appear, but atmospheric touches wash over the song, as a slide guitar quietly paces in the background. It’s a combination of folk and experimentation that finally works for the band, so much so, that it makes all the bad memories fade away.
One thing to note, and this goes for the last several albums as well, is that the lyrical composition has improved for Elf Power. Okay, sure, they definitely take liberty with the subject matter, like during “Tiny Insetcs” when we’re getting a synopsis of an individual writing as he watches tiny insects, sometimes in a bedroom, sometimes smashing into a windshield. Still, they’re not disposable, like they were on “Loverboy’s Demise.” We expect maturity, and that’s what we have here, so let’s be thankful for that.
It’s not that Elf Power have returned to the heyday of their lo-fi career, but it has finally become clear that that’s no longer the band we’re listening to anymore. This is a mature band, who have grown, adapted and still hung on to their creativity as a unit. They offer us a bit more insight into the evolution of all those band’s we’ve adored privately for so long, and despite their missteps, we can still proudly say we enjoy them every bit today as we did back then.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/stranger-in-the-window.mp3]
Download: Elf Power – Stranger in the Window [MP3]
I’ve long been a fan of Elf Power, and their earlier, odd, pieces really got to me. Lately, they’ve taken a more straight-forward approach, at least in regards to their back catalog, and I’m sort of on the fence about it. One thing is for sure though, as this new song from their upcoming self-titled album is really strong. It’s got a bit of sadness to it, which people are relating to the passing of Vic Chesnutt, but I put it all up to the continuing passage of time into old age. Regardless, this new album slated for a September release looks really promising.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/stranger-in-the-window.mp3]
Download: Elf Power – Stranger in the Window