Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree: The Weight of Now

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[Please note: Click play above to hear the premiere of “Dawn” from Elephant Tree’s self-titled debut. Album is out April 22 on Magnetic Eye Records.]

London four-piece Elephant Tree got off to an encouraging start in 2014 with their first EP, Theia (review here). Also their first outing for Magnetic Eye Records, it successfully blended psychedelia and sludge, here exploring the sitar provided by Riley MacIntyre that added space and classically mystical presence to the guitar of Jack Townley, Peter Holland‘s bass and Sam Hart‘s drums, there showing a screamier, harsher side that in many contexts would be far enough from the other side to be out of place. Their self-titled LP, also on Magnetic Eye, abandons the screaming and replaces it with a resonant heavy psychedelic roll boasting rich arrangements both of tone and vocals, contributed by Townley, Holland and MacIntyre, establishing a niche within a model of thickened, dense fuzz cut through by melodic and harmonized singing.

I dug the EP, but the album leaves no question at all that the shift in approach — however permanent it may or may not be — was the right move for this material. Running 38 minutes and comprised of seven tracks and the preparing-for-immersion intro “Spore,” Elephant Tree‘s Elephant Tree offers molten heaviness, memorable songwriting and a sense of overarching cohesion that I have no doubt will make it one of this still-new year’s most satisfying debut full-lengths. That sounds like hyperbole, but the songs live up to that level of promise from the initial snare hit and fuzz-roll of “Wither” to the piano that finishes closer “Surma.” Really, there isn’t a weak moment front to back.

Most of the titles are single words, and that gives a sense of simplicity to what’s a more complex progression than it initially lets on, a sense of humility to go with familiar shades throughout, “Wither” reminding of Quest for Fire‘s “Confusion’s Home” in its central riff, or “Aphotic Blues” bringing to mind Mars Red Sky‘s signature blend of melodic fragility and elephantine tone. But the album is Elephant Tree‘s own, ultimately, and that proves to be among its great strengths. Its songwriting is no less distinctive than its vocal flourishes, “Wither” enacting quick hypnosis in its first half and breaking to a long march and airy guitar squibblies in its second as if to maximize the element of space in the world that “Spore” seems to be entering at the start.

There’s a hook in there, make no mistake, and it’s the first of several landmarks in that regard, the nodding “Dawn” picking up the psychedelic cue and running with it via a scorcher solo placed as if to remind the band took part in Magnetic Eye‘s Hendrix tribute (review here) last year as the central groove continues to unfold underneath, each verse ending with a far-back shout that sticks through not with aggression, but a message of positivity. Quickly enough they’re on to the acoustic-centered “Circles,” which brings perhaps the album’s catchiest chorus, “As I fly I can name all the places/And time is a ghost/The sky just the same as the ocean/A space between me and my home,” delivered with emotional presence to match its sonic resonance and poetic imagery. Unplugged layers and overlaid tones, as well as the echoing voices, further the atmosphere of the prior tracks while greatly broadening Elephant Tree‘s reach, adding further depth to the whole even as it stands out to leave a singular impression.

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Speaking of, “Circles” gives way to “Aphotic Blues,” and the latter is without a doubt the highlight of Elephant Tree. Not the longest track — that’s closer “Surma” at 7:20 — but with not only a maddeningly catchy chorus, but a purposeful, gorgeous use of call and response harmonies, a choice riff and as righteous a groove as the band have on offer throughout that leads to a droned-out break and a crashing apex and finish that I can only wish was another four minutes long. Hard for anything not to seem like a comedown after that ending, but “Echoes” meets its task head on with bluesy, laid back and swinging low end at the start and a megachorus of its own, not to mention the watery psychedelics of its midsection and the urgency of its capstone lyrics, ending quiet to shift into the relatively straightforward take of “Fracture,” which pushes the vocals back behind the guitar and blows them out a bit in the early going, giving a rawer vibe at first that remains melodic and only gets more so as the song progresses.

A big slowdown near the end is given due setup, Hart‘s cymbal roll making a lot from a relatively simple, slow crash in terms of maximizing nod, and when it comes on “Surya” finds Hart‘s drums and Holland‘s bass in the lead before the guitars kick in at the first verse. The closer is given the weighty task of summarizing Elephant Tree‘s preceding songs while also finding room for something new, and it succeeds in that, but as with the best of go-ahead-and-get-lost-in-it songcraft, it lives up to its intent without being too showy about it. Another solid riff, another catchy hook, another memorable harmony, another twisted lead, but positioned differently and set to engage with one last show of the fluidity that led the way into the album and leads the way out with the aforementioned piano stretch.

As with any promising debut, Elephant Tree‘s Elephant Tree showcases vast potential for future growth, where they might go sound-wise and the strong foundation of songwriting they might use to get there, but that shouldn’t distract from the immediate satisfaction this self-titled offers. While it’s exciting to imagine future contributions and what direction the band will head, their work stuns even at what might prove to be its outset.

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One Response to “Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree: The Weight of Now”

  1. […] sample a taste of things to come visit The Obelisk to stream and share new song “Dawn” ahead of the album’s official release through […]

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