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Published: 2006/04/16
by Chris Gardner

Back to the Web – Elf Power

Rykodisc 10848

I've been trying to like Elf Power for years now, and someday I'll have to admit that it's never going to happen. I bought A Dream In Sound and Creatures, both of which are nestled in the used bin at the local record shop, waiting for some unwitting Tolkien fan to pick them up
expecting prog-rock. (What else could you expect from that name?) I went to an underwhelming show years ago, and yet still I keep trying to like them. Part of it is because I always give those Athens, GA based commune-ists from the Elephant 6 collective and their buddies a second and third and
fourth chance, but the larger part is that the band itself manages at all times to suggest it is capable of greater things, to offer just enough tantalizing beauty to pique your interest. In six years though, they've never come through for me.

Back to the Web won't do it either. It's too flat. A number of elements contribute to the flattening. Chiefly, the songs are often explorations of a single musical idea, rarely branching out or evolving. Disappointingly, two of the disc's better melodies feel lifted, one from Pink Floyd's
"Comfortably Numb" and the other from R.E.M.'s "(Don't Go Back to) Rockville," and while these hijacked melodies represent but an element of the original compositions, here they comprise the whole, serving as a lightly adorned through lines for the tracks. Sonically, the unadorned drumming rarely includes
cymbals, and the result is less often a deadening thud track. This thudding and often relentless undercurrent roots and tethers these songs, weighing them down, anchoring and restraining them.

Songwriter Andrew Rieger can't escape the pull. He once compensated for his limited vocal range by straining beyond
its limits both awkwardly and endearingly, but now he has settled into a comparatively flat delivery, and the various embellishments (from strings to banjo to mandolin to clap/clack tracks) likewise fail to lift the songs out of their musical flat lines. The album on the whole lacks any real sense
of dynamism. You get the sense that Rieger, the driving force behind the band, is holding himself back, that he is in fact getting just the sound he wants, and you’ve got to wonder why he chose this relative minimalism.

True to form though, the band offers just enough to entice you to hope for more, or just enough to piss you off that their talent feels wasted. While the majority of the album relies on subtle and ineffective additions and subtractions to suggest shifts or changes, "Somewhere Down the River"
actually moves, offering a distinct and noticeable shift that feels almost jarring in a sea of sameness, but the real beauty is "All the World Is Waiting" which comparatively explodes with musical ideas. The track bursts with the glee and whimsy that is absent from the bulk of this often too
earnest effort with background tracks (whispers, screams, singing-sounds) that echo the lyrics, keening slide guitar, effectively multi-tracked vocals, and genuine melodic and instrumental shifts. At one point, all instruments fall away save the 12-string guitar as Rieger sings, "All at once, then
slowly, every sound you've ever known is hummed by all the world into a drone," and you've got to wonder if that, that drone, is somehow his intent. If so, then "All the World is Waiting" is the furthest stone from that intent, and in this iPod world it's (perhaps tellingly) the only track from
this album I'll ever hear again.

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