Thursday, April 03, 2008

Elf Power - In A Cave



Elf Power
In A Cave (Rykodisc, 2008)
Grade: B+

Download: Elf Power - "Spiral Stairs"

Elf Power has always had a bit of a schizophrenic career. Marvelous albums are followed up by duds and dead end musical avenues are followed to their excruciating conclusions. But when Elf Power is on, they're on. After 2006's dull Back to the Web, the Athens-based E-6ers have thrown open the windows to let in some summer sun on an album somewhat inappropriately titled In A Cave.

Regardless of what spurred the change, In A Cave firmly rejects the oppressive atmosphere of Back to the Web in favor of a brighter, poppier sound. The album can be best summed up by a lyric from opening track "Owl Cut (White Flowers In The Sky)": "My mind was filled with things that I had done/I replaced them all today with pictures of the sun."

As the optimistic image would suggest, In A Cave is a very kinetic record. Melodies jingle along, propped up on buoyant bass and decked-out in vibrant fuzz. In A Cave has more in common with 2002's Nothing's Going To Happen than with later releases, and is more influenced by early R.E.M. (who they cover on a recent tour L.P.) than on previous releases. The easiest (and cheesiest) way to express my feelings In A Cave is to say that it makes me want to move. Elf Power has never been a band notable for dance music, but there's definitely a happy bounce to this record.

I was a little worried about getting sick of the album's aggressively happy power pop, but by "A Tired Army," a wider variety of sounds are introduced. It's a good move; one of my major gripes with Back to the Web is that all the songs sounded the same, making an already oppressive atmosphere even more so. But the addition of a host of extra instruments and active variation in song structure kept me on my toes through most of the record.

Statements like that never go unqualified, though. I can't let the one-two punch of "The Demon's Daughter" and "Quiver and Quake" go unpunished. In the midst of a very nice listening experience, all of a sudden an overly-sweet, fussy folk song erupts out of the nowhere, followed by what sounds like a phoned-in version of the album's strongest tracks, "Owl Cut" and "Spiral Stairs." And then the record goes back to being fun. The songs might have worked a little better in a different order, but as it stands, the two break up the flow of the album rather jarringly.

Welcome back, Elf Power.

Elf Power MySpace Page

(April Wright)

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