Six Classics From The Elephant Six

Posted on 23 September 2010 by Joe

The Elephant 6 Recording Company was a loose musical collective that formed in the early 90’s in Denver Colorado. The collective was principally headed up by Apples In Stereo front man Robert Schneider. Wikipedia has a goodpotted history of the collective.

To coincide releases in 2010 of new albums by Elephant 6 artists The Apples In Stereo  and Elf Power, Neon Filler presents our favourite 6 albums by Elephant 6 artists. (Apologies to those who are surprised not to see anything by The Olivia Tremor Control in the list. There is no denying their place in the collective, or some excellent songs, but in general I find them to be rather hard work).

The Apples in Stereo – The Discovery Of A World Inside The Moone

Robert Schneider’s The Apples In Stereo are the best place to start when listening to the Elephant 6 and The Discovery Of A World Inside The Moone is their finest hour. From horn blasting opener ‘Go!’ to the acoustic whimsy of ‘The Afternoon’ it never puts a foot wrong.

The album manages to be a great retro homage without ever falling into the trap of being a pointless exercise in nostalgia. Vocal harmony, handclaps and a genius command of melody runs throughout the album. Classic pop, psyche, garage and even white funk (‘The Bird That You Can’t See’) make for a really enjoyable set.

Neutral Milk Hotel – In The Aeroplane Over The Sea

This is probably the most influential album in the list, and the only Elephant 6 album that regularly appears in “Greatest Album” lists. Jeff Mangum’s band are not always an easy proposition managing to be primarily acoustic but also incredibly noisy and abrasive at times.

In The Aeroplane Over The Sea is influenced by 60s psychedelia but also has a strong folk sound in terms of vocals and instrumentation. ‘The king Of Carrot Flowers, Pt.1’ is a genius off key pop song and sets the tone for the album perfectly.

Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

The band has a slightly sinister sound and songs like ‘Two Headed Boy’ are fairly warped stories. ‘Holland, 1945’ is a great noisy pop piece filled with nonsense poetry and inventive instrumentation.

It isn’t the kind of record that people immediately click with but it rewards persistence and is the kind of album that you come back to again and again.

Dressy Bessy – Little Music

This choice is a bit of a cheat, being a collection of singles rather than an album proper. However, it is probably the best collection of their music and perfectly demonstrates all that is great about this band. Lead by Tammy Ealom the band stands out from the predominantly male collective.

The band, also featuring Apples In Stereo guitarist John Hill, has an aesthetic is rooted in 60s beat pop but also the slightly bored and detached vocal sound of some of the 60s girl groups.

It is a singles collection and as such it is a very poppy, ranging from cute ‘Lipstick’ to whimsical ‘Gloria Days’ to punkey ‘All The Right Reasons’ but Ealom manages to keep things the right side of cloying at all times.

Recent Dressy Bessy releases have adopted a drab heavier sound, but this is a great place to discover a much underrated act.

Beulah – When Your Heartstrings Break

Beulah are a real loss to the music world, releasing four excellent albums before giving in to the public’s indifference and calling it a day in 2004. Their second album, When Your Heartstrings Break, is probably their finest moment.

Despite a clear 60s influence, some eccentric production and great use of pop horns and strings, they are probably the most conventional Elephant 6 band. With a bit more luck they could have been the first Elephant 6 act to break through into the mainstream.

Songs like ‘Sunday Under Glass’ and the excellent ‘Emma Blowgun’s Last Stand’ are simple pop classics and closer ‘If We Can Land A Man On The Moon, Surely I Can Win Your Heart’ has brilliant, if slightly off key orchestration and sounds like a snotty disaffected Beach Boys.

Of Montreal – Hissing Fauna Are You The Destroyer?

Of Montreal had released several whimsical and fey albums before front man Kevin Barnes went through a transformation over the course of the Satanic Panic In the Attic and The Sunlandic Twins albums.

By the time he recorded Hissing Fauna Are You The Destroyer? he was operating solo, with the concept of the band existing live only, and the sound was much darker. Imagine Prince as a cross dresser who grew up listening to Kinks records and you are some way to understanding the Of Montreal sound at this time.
He is the master of the quirky retro pop song as opener ‘Suffer For Fashion’ shows, but the album is much more than just 60s influenced pop music. Elements of electronica, krautrock, garage and even Prince style funk (‘Labyrinthine Pomp’) permeate the album.

Some of the songs would almost fit onto earlier releases by the band but tracks like the epic repetitive ‘The Past Is A Grotesque Animal’ mark a real departure. Lyrically it is dark and bitter, none more so than the excellent ‘She’s A Rejecter’. This is probably the best Elephant 6 related release of the 21st century.

Elf Power – Walking With The Beggar Boys

For their 6th album, Walking With The Beggar Boys, Elf Power dropped most of their psychedelic tendencies in favour of a more conventional alternative pop/rock sound. They sound all the better for it, the quality of the songs shining through.

Elf Power

Opener ‘Never Believe’, the title track and ‘Hole In My Shoe’ are pretty straightforward pop songs, but they are as good as that kind of song gets, direct and full of fizzing energy.

It isn’t an entire change of style for the band. The lyrics are still littered with obscure references and a psychedelic sensibility. There are also still several examples of their quirky instrumentation and production sounds, particularly ‘The Cracks’ but these songs sound better in the context of this album.

By Dorian Rogers,  May 2010

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