A lot can happen to a band in four years. It can form, it can break up, it can lose members, gain members, release albums, tour – just about anything really. In the case of Polish rockers Elvis Deluxe, what they did in the four years since making their debut with the full-length Lazy is undertake a massive stylistic growth that now shows itself on Favourite State of Mind (Harmony Records), their second album. Where Lazy was charming if generic stoner rock, Favourite State of Mind finds the Warsaw outfit exploring a host of influences while also expanding on some of the ideas from last time. Stylized punk, heavy psychedelia, driving rock and even a bit of hardcore all show up across Favourite State of Mind’s 12 tracks, and the record is genuinely surprising in terms of how well it flows and how coherent and confident the band sounds. With the diverse vocals of bassist Ziemba, a range of atmospheres is cast and Elvis Deluxe feel just as much at home in one as in another, and as a result, the album is one that not only warrants repeat listens, but utterly flourishes in them.
The aptly-titled “Intro” is instrumental guitar strummed by drummer Miko, and it sets the stage for a lot of Favourite State of Mind. Soft ringing notes are soon swallowed in a mass of feedback, and the transition from that song into “Let Yourself Free” is just jarring enough to make you look back at it. Ziemba adapts his vocals to the more punkish material on the record the way Queens of the Stone Age might have switched between Josh Homme’s melodic singing and Nick Oliveri’s rougher edge — essentially doing the work of both of them, and doing it well – and “Let Yourself Free” finds its strongest statement in the intricate layering of both the guitars of Mechu (since out of the band and replaced by Bert Trust of Castor Fiber) and Bolek and Ziemba’s bass and vocals. The bassline to “Let Yourself Free” isn’t really a focal point, but almost immediately on “Out all Night,” it’s Ziemba providing the song’s sway and swagger, the guitars layering a memorable lead over the chorus with Cieju’s effective organ work. Already, roughly six minutes into Favourite State of Mind, it’s clear Elvis Deluxe are a completely different band than they were four years ago. They’ve grown out of the trappings of their genre and into something more individual and altogether more engaging. “Out all Night” uses fuzz distortion but by no means relies on it, and like the album as a whole, gets a boost from the natural-sounding production.
Their momentum continues through the catchy, more straightforward riff rocking “Fade Away,” where Ziemba backs himself through a call and response chorus that’s one of the strongest on Favourite State of Mind. “Fade Away” is the first of several tracks to feature guest guitarist Kazan, and as Ziemba affects a falsetto bridge leading into the last chorus, the heavier crunch of the track feels all the more appropriate moving into the intro of “This Time,” which sounds not so much borrowed from Kyuss’ “100 Degrees” as built on top of it. The tonality and some of the rhythm is the same, but Miko takes a different approach from Brant Bjork on the drums and the song soon turns the riff on its head. Ziemba takes a more passive approach vocally, riding the song’s formidable groove and allowing the music more space to breathe than on “Fade Away” or any of the cuts preceding. In terms of the structure of Favourite State of Mind, this is the moment in the classic live show where the band has already opened strong and work to shift – not dip – the progression. They keep that all-in-one-room feel alive (I don’t know if that’s how they actually recorded, but one can almost hear the drum sounds bouncing off a high ceiling), and as “This Time” transitions into “Out There,” it’s clear the track was positioned not just to play off the energy of the opening trio that followed “Intro,” but also to set the stage for the more psychedelic side of Elvis Deluxe.
“Out There,” the only instrumental on Favourite State of Mind apart from “Intro,” finds the band bringing in bongo percussion — handled capably by Miko — and once more turning over guitar duties to the drummer as well. In general, the album is much stronger for its diversity of influences and breadth of sound, and looking how far we’ve come stylistically between “Fade Away” and “Out There” in just the span of one track between them, and how smooth Elvis Deluxe has managed to make that transition, is near staggering. Miko’s pastoral guitar is complemented by that of Kazan, and the experimental grasp leads well into album highlight “Take it Slow,” on which Elvis Deluxe do precisely that, pulling off some of the best still-structured heavy psych I’ve heard since the second The Kings of Frog Island record. That British troupe isn’t a bad comparison point for some of the moves and grooves Elvis Deluxe have on offer, but again, they’re almost completely their own band, and “Take it Slow” proves that perhaps most of all these songs. Ziemba gives his best vocal and bass performance of Favourite State of Mind, and though the song might be a touch fast in terms of tempo, it nonetheless has this overall calming effect on the listener and is handled with grace in terms of Cieju’s subtle keys and the transition into its more riff-led bridge and then back to the closing chorus of “I am sure that/The rain will fall/Let’s just lay down/And take it slow” – lyrics I find myself wanting to live as I sing along to them, like some bygone teenage fantasy. Fucking gorgeous.
But sad as it may be to say, nothing lasts, and with “The Apocalypse Blues,” Elvis Deluxe make their return to a more terrestrial approach. Ziemba’s bass is high in the mix and full-sounding running along with Mechu, Bolek and Kazan’s guitar, Miko’s drums keeping the track even more grounded with a considerable thud, setting the stage for a shouted-over guitar solo. “To Tell You” finds the band going more straightforward in their approach, exploring their punk roots and adapting the sound to a more classic rock style, Cieju’s organ included. Both that track and “Break the Silence” do that work, the latter being the shortest cut on Favourite State of Mind – “Intro” aside – at 2:42 and delving even further into feverish hardcore punk for its first minute or so before diving headfirst into a stoner groove ending topped with a wah solo that, if anything, cuts off too soon, moving right into “Fire (Loveboy),” which finds the guitars in a start-stop progression not dissimilar from Queens of the Stone Age’s “Little Sister,” but again, aimed somewhere else entirely, with Ziemba alternating between reverbed declarations and gruffly shouted delivery of the album’s title line. If it happens anywhere on Favourite State of Mind, the varying personalities in Elvis Deluxe’s delivery are brought together here. Even the psychedelia of “Out There” and “Take it Slow” shows up in some of the bass work and organ, and definitely the riff rock and energetic punk elements are there as the band jams out the track’s concluding movement, finishing with amp noise and organ tones.
Drawing its end with “A Place to Stay,” Favourite State of Mind goes out on one of its least remarkable notes. The song follows more or less the same blueprint as “Fire (Loveboy)” and adds little to the formula, feeling more tacked on than essential to the record. It doesn’t make the album feel too long – it’s still under 50 minutes, all told – but where so much of the other material felt lean, urgent and reckless, even with Miko’s fervent percussion, “A Place to Stay” languishes, despite the strength of the riff on which it closes. It’s an unfortunate misstep to have as the album’s last moment, but far and away the impression one takes away after listening of Elvis Deluxe is shaped more by the vigor of the songs before. Memorable and carefully honed, they show that Elvis Deluxe did not spend their time these past four years unwisely, however they spent it, and that the Polish scene has more to offer than mere aping of genre tropes. Favourite State of Mind is easily among the better rock albums I’ve heard so far this year, and in terms of songwriting and execution, should be considered essential listening for anyone not afraid of having a good time. Be ready to give it a couple rounds through before really passing judgment.
Tags: Elvis Deluxe, Harmony Records, Poland, Warsaw