Stow the shanties
“Arr. Methinks the Pirate Mark does not like these sea shanties, laddy.”
That was basically all I had to say after seeing Elf Power for the first time, when they opened for Wilco last year. I had no previous experience of the group, other than being aware that they were considered second-tier members of the Elephant 6 Recording Company stable– the pop-oriented not-quite-a-label indie conglomeration (big members: The Apples In Stereo, The Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel).
Maybe it was just excitement over seeing Wilco perform some of the new songs from their infamously delayed release Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but man, every song seemed to be in three/four time, with melodies that appeared to draw from mildly Irish folk songs about– you guessed it– the sea.
I was not expecting much more than heartsick waltz-time odes when I listened to the group’s latest release, Creatures (2002), but I must say I was pleasantly surprised. In place of the mostly acoustic nautical themed songs that Elf Power performed during my first exposure, this go around, if I may be so bold, sort of rocked. In a lo-fi your-mom-might-dig-them sort of way.
You might be able to guess the Elf Power sound from their name alone– “nice-rock” would be a good term to describe their sound, and I’m going to bet they make a bundle from the baby-t’s (the small shirts the ladies sometimes sport) they sell at shows.
Drums, guitar, bass, and some keyboards form the base on which singer/songwriter Andrew Rieger’s high clean voice rests– mildly stereotypical indie-rock would be their genre.
Begun on a four-track in 1993 by Rieger and some of his roommates at the time, their first true release in 1995 was titled (in the humorous style Elf Power relishes), Vainly Clutching At Phantom Limbs. Four albums, (and probably many, many sea shanties) later, the group released Nothing’s Going To Happen on October 1, an album of covers that also includes six tracks from the group’s Come On EP, originally released in 1998 as a tour-only EP of one thousand copies.
The album is on Orange Twin Records, a label and website (orangetwin.com) run by the band to “raise funds for land preservation and sustainable development.” They are currently constructing a 150-acre eco-village outside Athens, Georgia (at a former Girl Scout camp, no less).
I believe in second chances—one’s first impression should not be the final say in the matter, especially in rock music. Therefore, I’ll be at the group’s show on October 9. But a few too many shanties, and you can bet I’m taking my eye-patched, peg-legged and shoulder-parroted ass out of there.
Elf Power with Antelope and Kid Dream & The Gang Got Shot at Tokyo Rose, October 9. $5, 10pm.