Elf Power
(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

Vainly Clutching At Phantom Limbs , 5/10
When The Red King Comes , 6/10
A Dream In Sound , 6.5/10
The Winter is Coming , 6/10
Creatures , 5/10
Nothing's Going To Happen , 4/10
Walking With The Beggar Boys (2004) , 4/10
Back To The Web (2006), 4/10
In A Cave (2008) , 4/10
Elf Power (2010), 4/10

Elf Power (based in Georgia) is a band, member of the fabled "Elephant 6" collective (Apples In Stereo, Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel) that plays psychedelic-pop replete with infectious refrains and oddly baroque arrangements. A non-trivial factor in this case is the vocalist, South Carolina native Andrew Rieger. Keyboardist Laura Carter is no less creative as an arranger. They met at the University of Georgia at Athens.

The band debuted with the album Vainly Clutching At Phantom Limbs (1994, Arena Rock, 2000) and the EP Winter Hawk (1995) and a naive folk-pop sound inspired by fairy-tales.
Tracks: Pioneer Mansion, Temporary Arm, All Your Experiments, Finally Free, Drug Store, Loverboy's Demise, Slither Hither, Circular Malevolence, When The Serpents Approach, Sugrey, Vainly Cluthching At Phantom Limbs, Arachnid Dungeon Attack, Grand Intrustion Call, Monster Surprise, Heroes And Insects, Winter Hawk, Exalited Exit Wound.

When The Red King Comes (Arena Rock, 1997) was their first major statement, albeit still a tentative one.
Tracks: Step Through The Portal, Into The Everlasting Time, Frightened Singers, Secret Ocean, Arrow Flies Close, Icy Hands Will Never Melt Away, When The Red King Comes, Separating Fault, Spectators, Introducing Cosmic Space, Bengal Parade, Needles In The Camel's Eye, Silver Lake, It's Been A Million Years.

A Dream In Sound (Arena Rock, 1999) is fundamentally a bubblegum album: cheesy pop for brainless people. Nonetheless, it is the elegance and the decorum that still makes it unique even within that garbage can. Elf Power are almost delirious in the way they rehash stereotypes with such a sense of self-awareness. Despite the superficial impression, it is also their most complex and varied album, ranging from the catchy Rising And Falling In A Little World and Will My Feet Still Carry Me Home to the childish sing-along High Atop The Silver Branches, from the serenade Jane to the dreamy We Dream In Sound, from the instrumental Carnival to folk-rock ballads.

The Winter is Coming (Arena Rock, 2000), their most ambitious work yet, redefined their glossy psych-pop sound with less Phil Spector's wall of sound and more bizarre instrumental sketches. The influence of county fairs (Winter Is Coming) carnivals, and musichall skits (Naughty Villain) now prevailed over the Beach Boys and the Beatles. Embrace The Crimson Tide opens the album with collective pow-wow rhythm, guitar reverb (reminiscent of Hendrix's Third Stone From The Sun) and a quasi-symphonic coda. Skeleton returns to their straightforward power-pop ripped by heavy fuzztones. Experiments abound, from the exotic trance of Wings Of Light to the rhythmic frenzy of Leopard's Teeth, but nothing is revolutionary. The closing Albatross is even a power ballad propelled by a massive heavy riff.

I am sure it is involuntary, but Creatures (SpinART, 2002) sounds like the Residents circa 1979 when they were making parodies of pop music (Rieger's out-of-tune singing, the eccentric keyboard arrangements, the blatantly cliched rhythms). There are few surprises (a slightly more aggressive Everlasting Scream, the ghostly Palace Of The Flames), and the catchier songs (Let the Serpent Sleep, Visions of the Sea, are as original as a hamburger.

Nothing's Going To Happen (Orange Twin, 2002) is a collection of covers.

Walking With The Beggar Boys (Orange Twin, 2004) is as empty as a Beatles record without the arrangements (stereotyped dejavu melodies and lots of attitude). The joke is funny for just about two minutes (Never Believe). The Cracks is the only track that makes an effort to sound interesting.

Even less funny was the pseudo-exotic Back To The Web (Rykodisc, 2006), that often sounded like an album from the British folk revival of the 1960s (The Spider And The Fly, Peel Back The Moon Beware, All The World Is Waiting).

The songs on In A Cave (2008) tried to be more corporeal but turned out to be faceless, and serving as Vic Chesnutt's backing band on his Dark Developments (2008) only highlighted the flaws of their own albums.

Elf Power (2010) is just too plain to justify its existence.

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