The Winter Is Coming
Sugar Free / Elephant 6
By: Eric G.
Despite whatever you may think of that whole Elephant 6 scene in Athens, Georgia, Elf Power deserves a closer look. I'm not a big fan of hippies, and the image surrounding Elephant 6 and its brethren is that of one big happy group of stoners trading licks and Dr. Seuss hats while grooving out to each other’s incestuous records. Granted, that’s probably a bit much, but having label-mates like Olivia Tremor Control, who parade around in a single file line before taking the stage with hand-cymbals and pied-piper flutes doesn’t help image control very much.
Thankfully, Elf Power tends to avoid the jam rock tendencies of its peers, instead honing in on a clever blend of psychedelic pop and heavy rock riffs with a strict lo-fi aesthetic. The focus is more on spaced-out pop than anything else, though, and Elf Power incorporates a slew of off-kilter melodies that bury themselves deep in your subconscious thanks to Andrew Rieger's thin but dreamy vocals. Some songs do outstay their welcome while fewer are unlistenable altogether, but when you shake it all out the good far outweighs the bad.
Even with better studios and slightly bigger budgets Elf Power remains true to its four track roots, retaining a sense of the personal, claustrophobic nature of its early work. "Embrace The Crimson Tide" is the distant indie rock cousin to Fleetwood Mac's "Tusk"- it even employs a drum ensemble for the rollicking finale. "Skeleton" is a familiar Elf Power sound, mixing sparse, new-wave-y minimalism with quasi-glam-metal riffs. "The Great Society" is deliberately eccentric. The same three chords repeat ad naseum while Reiger leads a child-like chorus in some of his more obscure lyrics.
Sometimes Elf power can sound like your average indie rock band as on the title track, but it's never for long. The rhythm of the song is clumsy, almost amateurish, but it's also instantly memorable. The horn breakdown is an unexpected detour that works thanks to charismatic playing. Elf Power often sounds like it's just barely able to hold it together musically, but that's just a red herring. The band is fully aware of its manipulative charm. Most of the credit should go to Reiger's strained lilt and his odd lyrics, which add just the right amount of mystery and absurdity to Elf Power's whimsical appeal.
The Winter Is Coming grows on you slowly. Sometimes, Reiger's non-singing monotone can be grating, but the melodies still stick. Take "People Underneath", for example. At first the music sounds slightly out of tune and Reiger's unmatched, double-tracked vocals only make it seem worse, but after a few listens the song starts to sound exactly right. "The Naughty Villian" works the same way but boasts a much catchier hook. Elf power, in fact, boasts a big bag of hooks- not the obvious sugarcoated kind- but the kind that catches your ear and digs in deeper as you listen. That's actually the theme of The Winter Is Coming- it's not your typical ear candy-type, instant gratification record; it slowly gets under your skin and satiates your need for weird indie pop.