Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Elder - Reflections of a Floating World

Sometimes it can be hard for me to write reviews, typically for one of two reasons. Sometimes an album will be really bad, in which case I don't want to write about it because I don't like writing negative reviews most of the time.  Other times an album will be really good, and I'll love it, and I'll start writing a review of it, and then after a week of work, I'll read my draft and discover all I've written is "Uh... Falls of Rauros' Vigilance Perennial is really, really good" 10,000 times, like a much more upbeat, sort of less alcoholic, still batshit crazy Jack Torrance.

"Words of wisdom, Lloyd my man:  Check out that new Falls of Rauros album posthaste!"

Occasionally, however, a third reason emerges:  I'll stumble across an album so great it makes me rethink every other album I've ever thought was great; an album so incredible that I worry trying to quantify what makes it so great will lessen or cheapen it somehow.  Elder's fourth full-length Reflections of a Floating World is a Third Reason album, and if you stop reading now to go listen to it, no one will blame you.

Elder hails from New Bedford, Massachusetts, and is made up of guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan, and drummer Matthew Couto.  For Reflections of a Floating World, they were joined by Michael Risberg on guitar, as well as Michael Samos on pedal steel guitar to add "vibrancy and lushness to the album" (according to Bandcamp).  The trio-made-quintet play a stoner/doom/prog amalgamation that sounds maybe like what Sleep would sound like with Donald Fagen instead of Matt Pike, or if Peter Gabriel had been a part of Age of Winters-era Sword.  Elder's sound is pretty fucking cool, with a shit load of wandering melodies, is what I'm saying.

Good luck sleeping tonight, fuckers.

"Sanctuary" starts off sounding like a standard stoner doom rock song, opening up with riffs and melodies that get your heart pumping and head nodding, before transitioning into an ethereal, proggy opus that then changes into something else again before going back to the initial jam you thought you were listening to.  At this point, the song isn't even half over, and there are still multiple permutations left.  This becomes a common theme of Reflections of a Floating World; the songs are less single, straightforward tales than they are series of vignettes that fit into a larger whole.  Elder navigates the drastic tonal changes and abrupt about-faces perfectly, flowing them together with ease and care.  With a run time of 65 minutes spread over six songs, Reflections of a Floating World definitely takes its time in building the songs, but I'm convinced every song, every section, and every transition is necessary, and more importantly, that every little piece is in its correct and perfect place.

All of this is, of course, a testament to the musicians in the band.  For all the proggy wizardry Elder cooks up, Reflections of a Dying World never comes across as superfluous or showy, even in the flashier moments, like the guitar solo in "The Falling Veil."  Couto and Donovan are the platonic ideal of a rhythm section, anchoring every transition, riff, segue, and return with their steady, constant play, but when given the spotlight, they deliver: Couto's fills in "Staving Off Truth," and Donovan's song-stealing backbones of "Blind" and the instrumental "Sonntag" show just what the duo is capable of.  The guitar trio of DiSalvo, Risberg, and Samos are more to the forefront sonically, and none disappoint; Reflections of a Dying World only works as well as it does because every musician is working on the same level.  And while DiSalvo may not be the strongest vocalist around, much like wine, sometimes the food pairing elevates the choice of drink.  I'm not really a merlot drinker, for instance, but it does have its moments, and on Reflections of a Floating World, DiSalvo's voice pairs with Elder's music like a fine merlot with a perfectly roasted pork tenderloin.

I'm not gonna hurt you for that pretentious metaphor, I'm just gonna bash your brains in!

There is one glaring issue I have with Reflections of a Floating World, and it envelops a whole three minutes of the album: the first few minutes of the otherwise excellent "Blind" sound like they were recorded in the bottom of a well.  It's a distracting effect, and it doesn't last long and is quickly forgotten, but every time I listen to the album, those few minutes pull me out of it and take me to a place of questioning John Baizley, and that's not a place I like to go, especially when the song finishes so amazingly, cathartically strong.  Outside of that, there isn't much I can say about Reflections of a Floating World that isn't gushing praise.  As much as any album can, this one is pretty damn close to hitting the benchmark for the perfect album.

I had never heard of Elder until the praise for Reflections of a Floating World started popping up online, and that oversight on my part is as inexcusable as it is infuriating.  This is music that's right up my alley, filled with stoner grooves and melodic passages and proggy segues that ebb and flow organically, moving from quiet introspection to full-on headbanging in as much time as it takes to get there.  Reflections of a Floating World is a breathtaking album, the kind of album that makes me regret all the effusive praise I've lavished on other albums; not because they aren't good, but because what Elder has done is just so much better that using similar words and hyperbolic statements seems like it would tarnish it.  Reflections of a Floating World immediately jumps to the forefront of early contenders for 2017's Album of the Year, and is an album you should absolutely be listening to right now.


- Durf

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