ELF POWER with the INSTRUMENTS and LAKE HOLIDAY at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), Wednesday (May 3), 9 pm. $12, advance $10. 416-598-4753. Rating: NNNNN
Although Elf Power have never been the most celebrated members of the Elephant 6 collective, they've found that working outside the media spotlight has its advantages.
While many of the adventurous Athens, Georgia, pop ensemble's flashier contemporaries have either split or embarked on an extended hiatus, Elf Power have remained relatively stable, dependably topping previous studio achievements with each successive recording.
So it's not entirely surprising that their just-released Back To The Web (Rykodisc) happens to be the very best album they've ever made. It's a vast improvement over 2004's lacklustre Walking With The Beggar Boys (Orange Twin), combining the quirky naíveté of their early freak-folk self-indulgence with the more ambitiously orchestrated psych-pop of 2000's The Winter Is Coming (Arena Rock) without coming off like a trial-and-error experiment. If anything, it sounds like their inspiration has shifted from late-period Beatles and Odessey-era Zombies to early Tyrannosaurus Rex.
"I was sorta hoping the Marc Bolan thing wasn't going to be so blatant," says singer/songwriter Andrew Rieger, who formed the group with keyboardist Laura Carter after hooking up at the University of Georgia in Athens.
'"I have to admit, those early records of his definitely were an influence, but I was also listening to a lot of Gypsy and Middle Eastern music from those Secret Museum Of Mankind compilations of old 78s. In fact, I wound up buying a 12-string guitar just to see if I could figure out those sounds I was hearing. Writing songs for this album on a 12-string acoustic instead of the six-string I usually use had a big effect on the way the album sounds."
Evidently, the other key contributing factor to the changes in Rieger's compositional approach for Back To The Web was cigarettes, or rather, the lack thereof. He's convinced the fauna- 'n'-flora-rich lyrics would've been very different had he not given up smoking 18 months ago, just prior to beginning work on the new songs.
"When I decided to stop smoking cigarettes, I started jogging regularly, and the trail I use runs alongside a river here in Athens. Every day I'd go out for my run I'd come back with some ideas for lyrics that eventually wound up in songs for the new album. As I look back over those songs, I can see that there's a lot of nature and water imagery, which wasn't a conscious thing at all - it must've just seeped in there while I was running."
With a name like Elf Power, you'd think the popularity of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy would lead to some fortuitous fallout for the band. Nope. It's largely the same bunch of snappy pop-loving Elephant 6 loyalists with some time to kill while waiting for the Neutral Milk Hotel resurrection or the next Shins show.
"That's a good one," chuckles Rieger, "but no, we haven't noticed a sudden surge in the size of our audience due to the Lord Of The Rings films. They didn't ask us to do a song for the soundtrack either, which would've been nice. Some people think that it's selling out to have a song in a film, but who cares? We need the money. We're not getting rich playing music in Elf Power.
"We had one of our songs, Let The Serpent Sleep (from 2002's Creatures), used in an episode of the NBC series Ed. I don't watch the program, but apparently the song was played briefly in the background while two of the characters were talking in a diner, and we got $10,000 for that. So if anyone reading this wants to put one of our songs in a film, television show or even a commercial, get in touch with us.
"We could use some easy money."