Elf Power have beat the odds. Withstanding years of sound permutation and lineup changes, the band continues to release interesting music with persistence and relevancy.
The lineup changes over the years are due to Elf Power’s involvement in Elephant 6, a strong collective based in Athens, Georgia and made up of independent-minded musicians who share roles in bands both on tour and in the recording studio. Currently, Elf Power hold the torch for Elephant 6 along with the power-pop glam rockers Of Montreal and indie pop sensations The Apples In Stereo; in the past the collective had spawned The Olivia Tremor Control and the revered Neutral Milk Hotel.
However, Elf Power’s Andrew Rieger, the principal songwriter and nexus of the group, has carved out his own particular niche among his Elephant 6 mates. Most of the band’s latest release, In A Cave, bounces along with an urgency uncommon in indie pop music. Catchy vocal melodies are crooned out over generally jolly tunes with a quick, light beat and a plethora of guitar and keyboard sounds filling the recording space.
If The Beatles were still around in this electronic age of rock music, it seems like they would develop songs similar to Softly Through The Void, with its tambourine-fueled romp, or Spiral Stairs, which features smooth, rolling basslines and appropriately fuzzed-out guitars and keyboard accompaniment.
Even the druggy, Strawberry Fields element of the Fab Four is present in the slower tunes on In A Cave: A Tired Army ambles along steadily with strange sounds ripping through the verses and opens up to a trippy chorus section with woodwind samples. Window To Mars follows a similar (though effective) blueprint.
At other times Elf Power recall the cutesy indie pop of Belle and Sebastian, like when Rieger sings lazily over a driving beat in Paralyzed or Quiver And Quake. Most of the time, though, Elf Power eschew comparisons, plodding along with their effective blend of popular styles.
Album opener Owl Cut (White Flowers In The Sky) is a perfect example, starting things off with a roaring haze of fuzzed loops and progressing into a wonderful pop song laid atop a noisy soundscape. Closing song Midnight Crawls Out is another departure from the norm, sounding more like a country or folk song than a traditional indie pop song.
Lyrically, Rieger uses mainly traditional rhyme schemes but fights against monotony with some charged, compelling images. “I felt the waves coming up from the graves, all the people who knew me were all moving through me” feels like it could fit just as well into a progressive metal song by Mastodon as it does in Elf Power’s Spiral Stairs. The images tend to lean towards the absurdly sombre, with lines like “white flowers in the sky” recalling Jeff Magnum’s “king of carrot flowers” and other constructions in his songwriting for Neutral Milk Hotel.
While there could have been an effort to eliminate some of the canned percussive elements and other recording anomalies, Elf Power have crafted a wonderful album, filled with plenty of catchy hooks and interesting musical ideas based on simple progressions.