Elf Power runs the genre gamut on their sixth full-length release Walking With The Beggar Boys, and has discovered at least one infallible musical truth: variety is the spice of good music. For the most part, the band dabbles in the safe and subtle realm of poppy drum beats and cyclical lyrics and harmonies. And if by “Elf” they mean sprightly, this album will speak to you, fair nymphs and imps!
Elf Power played its first show in 1994 at a house party and since then has played over 350 shows in the U.S. as well as Europe and Japan, with the likes of The Flaming Lips, Black Heart Procession, and Sleater-Kinney. Elf Power manages many musical tinctures, one of which is straight-up folk with a twist of punk. An Elven martini, if you will. Abrupt and bright vocals perch atop energetic guitar hooks that are reminiscent of recently popular gooped-up sentimental punk rawk. The album’s title track squeezes out a taste of the South as well as vocals from Vic Chestnutt. According to their press release, the band “Lyrically…foregoes the abstract supernatural imagery of their past releases for a more straightforward lyrical approach.” Exhibit A: “I was God/ God is cool/ God is you/ God is me/ I was one / We were two…I was this/ This is me/I was young/ We were old/ I was hot/ We were cold.” Hmm, there’s definitely nothing abstract or supernatural about these lyrics! It’s nice to see that they’re dumbing it down a shade for us! The song is an autobiographical tale about meeting a group of beggar children in Warsaw, Poland. Even though the thought of a group of young Polish beggars whips up a much more melancholy scenario in my mind, the band turns it into an upbeat, sonically ambling song about kickin’ it with the locals in Eastern Europe.
The journey continues with “Drawing Flies,” and if one were so inclined to name-drop, one would drop the following names: Better Than Ezra. Modest Mouse. Neutral Milk Hotel. This is where the emo starts to fly, and singer Andrew Reiger provides some wonderfully mellifluous fuzzed-out wordless vocals on the chorus that made me feel like the prom queen in an 80’s movie. But Molly Ringwald is in the crowd yelling profanities at me because I stole her prom king. Fortunately, the melodious and lullabalistic (yes it’s a word. My word.) ballad of “The Stranger” cuts in and Molly is abated, but my prom king has skipped off. Again, I’m whisked away to yet another genus of the musical species tree. Things slow down, the cello weaves its way in beautifully, and the calm simplicity of a love song takes over. It’s bared down, effortless, and engaging.
The S.S. Elf then pulls in the slack and takes a hard turn to starboard with “The Cracks,” a haunting, bass-heavy psychedelic track littered with keyboards and a vocally singular scale. This is definitely one of the best tracks on the album. Reiger sounds as though he’s on the verge of heartbreak or heroin withdrawal and the sad, cold electronic beats remind us that even elves have bad days.
This band has what it takes to create a solid base sound and tweak it with many different musical tastings. More importantly, they have a cause. Their label, Orangetwin Records, which includes Athens natives Neutral Milk Hotel, uses a percentage of sales towards self-sustainable land conservation in Georgia. I guess I’m just a sucker for a cause, even if the cause is a hippie commune in Athens. Who am I to judge?! I do, however, have one bone to pick. There’s an enormous spelling error on the cover of the album. On the cover! “Wallking With The Beggar Boys.” That sort of hippy behavior is unacceptable! Fix it!