Saturday 14 June 2014

Elephant - Sky Swimming

Album review by KevW for

When a band releases a song as seductively unique as the cinematic, doo-wop-soaked alt-pop of 'Skyscraper', it's tempting to assume that they might just turn out to be one-hit wonders, and that any other songs they have are simply watered-down repeats of an undeniably stunning single. It only took London-based duo Elephant a short time to blow that idea away. Delving further into material released prior to this début album we found 'Shapeshifter', another retro pop masterpiece that's as haunting as Portishead but comes from a much warmer and woozier place. This dreamlike state penetrates deep into 'Sky Swimming', and when you learn that the demos for the album were written and recorded in night-time sessions fuelled by the odd tipple it makes perfect sense.

Much here sounds as though it belongs to another world or another time; an intriguing mixture of the future and the distant past of popular music. It's not all drifting tempos and hazy nocturnal soundscapes though; opening track 'Assembly' comes from a similar place but brings with it a driving bassline and beat that instantly propel it to the box marked “potential single”. Although 'Skyscraper' was the first attention-grabber, the crowning moment of this pristine record is probably subsequent single 'Elusive Youth'. It might not be quite as individual, but is already a track of the year contender and once again lifts the tempo, adding blissful melodies which are always going to work with a voice as liltingly alluring as that of Amelia Rivas. 'Torn Tongues' is another that uses beats to break from the more atmospheric pieces that proliferate the album, 'TV Dinner' is the point where Elephant combine all the aspects that make them so exciting, and the optimistic and just plain lovely 'Come To Me' is one of many songs that seem like essential listening: it's classic pop music.

There's a sadness to be found in this ethereal world, and this may be down to the duo's personal relationship (they began working on the album as a couple, but split during its creation). The fact that they continued through the pain that must have arisen from this situation is a testament to the fact that they knew this was too good to go to waste. There are love songs, 'Allured' is wonderfully rich dreampop that's produced to perfection, capturing the mood with meticulous accuracy; 'Ants' evokes the golden age of Hollywood and blends it neatly with the kind of modern touches that Chairlift have only mastered once or twice, it's also a sign that something is wrong, pleading “take me away to the shore, show me how it was before, I'm down and I'm black and I'm blue...”. The lullaby-like 'Shipwrecked' could also be dealing with the same situation, and the title-track certainly is, as the twinkling piano disguises lines like “don't do what you did to me” and “your eyes turn blue before you cry”. When the layers of magical sound build on top of each other at the end you know they've nailed it. There won't be many better début albums released this year.

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