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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Revisited: Elf Power, Back to the Web

click to enlarge BACK TO THE WEB: Released in 2006
  • BACK TO THE WEB: Released in 2006

For a band, consistency is one thing; being consistently dull, however, is quite another. The main reason a group like Radiohead is so universally revered seems to be their impeccable consistency. The band, in essence, becomes a brand — for the most part, we as listeners know what to expect, even if the formula is slightly tweaked from album to album. But you and I both know that Sam's Choice Cola ain't no Coke, and there of course exists a whole host of bands who spend the entirety of their middling careers bathed in mediocrity. Consistent, yes; exciting, nah.

I mention all this certainly not to equate Elf Power with store-brand soda pop. But the chief complaint lobbied against the Athens-based Elephant 6 stalwarts throughout their decade-plus career has been their neglect to push the ol' proverbial envelope, their incredible averageness. I will admit this criticism isn't entirely unfounded: take a listen to any one of their three or four albums of the early aughts and you could be forgiven for cursorily mistaking one for the other. But around 2004, some kind of rejuvenating lightning struck. That year's Walking With the Beggar Boys displayed a band eager to rock and roll, and with its tightly-wound guitar licks it veered closer to Thin Lizzy than to any of the '60s psychers to which Elf Power were initially so often (and rightfully) compared.

Back to the Web is yet another beast. For this album, frontman Andrew Rieger shook things up a bit on the band member front: Elf Power had long been Rieger's (and cohort Laura Carter's) project, but here, frequent contributors Heather McIntosh and John Fernandes essentially became a solid part of the group. Their effect on the band's sound is more than incidental. Back to the Web is a vibrant album, and most of its songs owe that vibrancy to the inventive instrumentation. At times, it seems influenced by the music of the Middle East; at others, Celtic-eqsue folk rears its head. All these many sounds form a welcome departure for a band known too long as play-it-safe kinda folks, for a group labeled with the pejorative version of that word, consistent.

On the charming, concise, worth-revisiting Back to the Web, Elf Power breaks their own mold.

(Album cover courtesy Rykodisc)

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