Sunday, 22 July 2018

Album of the Month: Elephant - 88

Elephant - '88 - Album Review

Info: In his notes for sophomore album 88, Shane Clarke, aka Elephant, invites us to enjoy his expression of nostalgia and hopes that "it plays like a movie in your head". For him it's a cathartic reflection of hurt and loss, a soundtrack to his childhood and young adult life, but he's at pains to encourage you, the listener, to let 88 become whatever it is that your imagination desires.

'Summer' starts off the timeline of our journey, and in some ways it feels like a wave goodbye to the folk roots of his debut album HyperGiant, it's a gently morose and wistful piece, but then, the door opens, and the bright lights of 88 lay inside. You imagine Clarke being sucked through a cosmic tunnel and being dropped unceremoniously onto a new and strange landscape.

After 'On Bended Knee''s opening monologue, both hands reach deep inside my head and heart and lift every feeling inside me to a heavenly plain. I am desperately fond of, and in love with, the retro synths and grandiose guitar moments here, and this will be repeated throughout the album, shaping different types of feeling and acute moments of elation.

Elephant - 'Waiting Game'

Single 'Waiting Game' was by far one of my favourite tracks of last year, it, long with it's companion 'Waiting Game II', indulged my inner love for Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music without sparing a single drop. With 'Waiting Game' it seems not so much that a logical next step has occurred, but a grand swoop, head-first into the middle of an ocean of creativity. I'd previously reflected in a review; "Here we have a complete gem of a track, an outstanding Irish single that will echo far beyond 2017. Yes it has the pace and mood of 80's Bowie, and the guitars hint at the more glam moments of Prince's repertoire, but ultimately, this is an Elephant track in every sense, this magic was always going to arrive from him." 

If that single was gratifying, the most recent one 'Happy' feat. Just Mustard's KT Ball somehow went deeper, and put the 80's electric guitar riffs and neon synths right up to the front. Ball's vocal lending the neon in spades, Kavinksy's 'Nightcall', Beach House's Teen Dream, Fever Ray's 'If I Had a Heart' spring to mind, but this is so much brighter than any of them. Another kaleidoscopic electro rush from the mind of Clarke.

Elephant's fragility is never more exposed for all to see than on 'Lie Fallow', it's sincere, authentic and his vocal powerfully delivers a sadness and emotion that registers with me, all accentuated by that ponderous and weeping sax line. It also concludes with an unsettling macabre march to the end. In contrast next track 'Mirrors' vibrates with shuddering movement, it didn't click with me the first time I heard it, but the industrial electro-grind and drum-beat from the 3rd to 4th minute of the track momentarily recalled a sliver of something you might have come across on The Prodigy's Music for the Jilted Generation, and how about that War of the Worlds outro!?

Vulnerability looms large once again on 'Human', it also has that celestial feel that the closing of 'Summer' had, and it's another example of how Elephant has pushed his vocal, as required, to a place very far from his past music. A huge highlight on 88 arrives in the shape of the aforementioned 'Waiting Game II', it's wildly visual and goes big on retro atmospherics. The feeling I had upon the singles release remains steadfast; "..this is a most luxurious velvet cloth of 80's-inspired new romanticism. Bryan Ferry is standing outside in the dark with his ear pressed against the window as Clarke pulls this one out of the bag on the inside."

Elephant - 'Stay With Me'

A warm and fulsome keyboard progression opens up 'Stay With Me', Clarke's vocal is more to the foreground here than on much of the albums other tracks, giving it a more direct and personal connection between artist and listener. The lyrics are lucid; "The book about an old man high up in the tree, and he's looking for his old hat, he finds it in the densest thicket of the branches, extends his arm in reach, buried under kingdoms and more than one opinion, what sense is there in stories? The old man and his glory had time enough to teach."

The fervour is whipped up on 'Time Will Tell', the video for which featured contributions from over 20 local artists from his hometown of Dundalk via a visual-lyric medium. It's a rare heavy rock moment on the LP, peppered with cinematic breaks, both brooding and euphoric. Elephant provides us with one last opportunity to switch off, drop out and submit ourselves to a final escapist resting place on 'All These Dragons', the man carves beauty and tenderness out of every second of the song.

88 is like a novel, and the words on the pages will change with every listen, where you're taken with your first listen, you may never return to again, because every time you put on this record, Elephant will change the course of the story. It is also an album that will serve its purpose for many moods, you can be happy, sad, indifferent, and it will resonate with whatever colour you are feeling at a given moment. An Irish masterpiece on so many levels.

88 is available on 180g vinyl double LP, and all major streaming platforms via Pizza Pizza Records or directly through Elephant's Bandcamp page below here

Elephant - '88 - Album Review - Remy Connolly

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