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]