Elephant Stone, a Canadian indie act which derives its name from a beautiful Stone Roses song, is a group of musicians which garners a lot of my respect. I first heard of them through Burger Records, this prodigal menace to society out of LA (it’s a record store in Fullerton, to be specific) — and having been drawn in to the name, I found everything about the musical project itself (which must have been a video from their ’16 album) climatic and well drawn, and once more, actually absorbing the Stone Roses as an influence.
And true to form, Live at the Verge is an absolute master of instrumentation… but it’s not actually a LIVE album. As you see, I’ve been going crazy with live albums lately… this is more like one of those live “in the BBC” type projects, the spontaneous conjunction of band recorded (hopefully) on a budget but by experts who really know what they’re doing. Track one alone, “The Devil’s Shelter,” which is six minutes that seems like four, after starting off with a semi-questionable Toto-style African-safari beat, ushers in a formidable swathing of textures, all anchored by the booming romp of a bass in an echo chamber. On track two we get sitar to start things out and a crazy, trippy vocal full of liquefying effects. Really, there’s no indication at all by this latter project that this is even the same individuals creating this music as it was on the first track, nor that said creation is taking place on the planet. This is a good thing, if not necessarily for the “DIY” sector indie (which if it means saying goodbye to the likes of Best Coast and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is fine with me).
What “See the Light” establishes beyond a shadow of a doubt is this band’s fine-tuned penchant for switching drama in mid-song, somewhat like, maybe, “Baba O’ Riley,” except that these guys do it 10 seconds IN to the song. By the way, this is way more of a religious experience than Zeppelin’s “In the Light.” It opens with a crazy, bouncy synth fed through an echo chamber like the bass was earlier which undoubtedly conjures ideas of prog or the golden age of I.D.M. a la Four Tet and the likes, and to be honest the whole thing starts to sound a tad questionable until those big, booming drums come in. This is not we-are-making-a-co**-rock-album stated within the first half minute, like it was with Spoon’s They Want My Soul. These drums provide CONTRAST, by saving the song from goopy prog ennui. All over again, it’s crisp, diamond sharp indie pop, all very much in the vein, in fact, of their namesake. This of course makes it all the more mind-blowing when “Andromeda” comes in even crisper and more focused — the product of immense practice, but also, more importantly, immense vision.
Rishi Dhir’s voice is undoubtedly the most important instrument here, especially since, what with its lush instrumentation, Elephant Stone reside very much opposite the “punk” side of indie (oh so refreshing after forcedly imbibing the drunken frat boy Iggy-mimics of the world like, ahem, Twin Peaks). Their production is no more “punk” than U2 — actually it’s less so, since they don’t own Wire as a primary influence. And indeed, Rishi Dhir’s voice can veer toward the territory of falsely androgynous or overly emotive — yes… gasp… “emo,” a word which is inviting of roughly the same responses as “Southern plantation owner” these days, and which by all accounts it should be.
But remember, Elephant Stone own CONTRAST as an undying mantra to an overwhelming extent, and it’s the little production things that put this album over the edge — heck, along with the harsh juxtaposition of loud drums against this androgynous vocal, even the drums themselves possess a sort of inner self-mockery, roughing up your ear drums a little bit but also resonating in crystalline, pyramid form through Brendan O’Brien-like reverb. All in all — Live at the Verge, though it doesn’t feature any beer-throwing or getting naked and yelling at your cousin, does house an unquestionable wealth of sounds, textures and moods. It’s music which lacks exactly nothing, and if it sacrifices some of its “coolness” aspect because of this, well, our old Califone records will more than tip the scales back in the other direction.