Love junk art? If so, you may just fall for this Montreal band’s unique brand of “junk music”. “Junk” is not to say that Elfin Saddle should be set out for weekly trash pick-up, but rather that their music fashions a DIY aesthetic with the use of homemade instruments, including membrane pipes, saws, chimes, bells, and old tapes, phonographs and speakers. Fittingly recorded in a vacant chapel in the countryside town of Mansonville, Quebec, their spritely new album, Devastates solders Celtic-folk and operetta influences with an earthy clatter.
Elfin Saddle has been taking their listeners off the beaten path since their debut album Ringing for the Begin Again, released by Canadian label Constellation in 2009. Now with Devastates, the band proves they are not only off the beaten path, but for them, there is no path at all. Even more blissful, strange, and mystical than their first, Elfin Saddle’s latest album is fueled by a blistering fantasy.
The album begins with soft, chilling guitar riffs fronted against metallic scrapes that soon blend into rain-like trickles, rigid rhythms and bolstering Scottish-like piping. The first track, “The Changing Wind”, is a union between natural and man-made worlds. Although it seems to make some bold artistic statement for the environment, this seven-minute song is sluggish, benign and almost cartoonish at times. Vocalist Emi Honda’s voice is fairylike as it frolics between dripping guitars and clanky percussion, but as the song progresses, the sound begins to struggle, sputtering like an old automobile. Jordan McKenzie’s Celtic, woodsy vocals are hemmed by Honda’s light Snow White-esque operetta. “The Changing Wind” increasingly begins to sound clangy and slightly anxious, but ends like a large machine being powered down.
Still mechanical, yet tinged with laborious effort, Kiboho seems to pick up where “The Changing Wind” left off. The shortest song on the album, “Kiboho” appropriately blends right into the next song, almost unnoticed. It is perhaps the most camouflaged song on the album, but ironically it stands out with Honda lending listeners her soaring hums in Japanese.
“Boats” is Elfin Saddle’s rendition of Donovan’s “Pergerine”, and you can really hear his influence in their music. “Boats” keeps the low undertone of pipes like in “Pergerine”, but adds wistful wind chimes, making their interpretation drowsy like a children’s lullaby. The title appropriately speaks to the songs foggy, nippy feel, like a morning on the bay. Low clarinets, cellos, dim horns, and something that sounds like a kazoo, gives the music a splashing effect, much like water lapping at the side of a boat. Honda’s operatic vocals calmly carry the song’s sleepy melodies.
Several songs on this album attest to found objects’ beauty and rarity; however, when listening to them consecutively, these songs begin to sound like songs from a stage musical. The stage performance sound can especially be heard on “Chaos Hands”. Although “Chaos Hands” begins with more of a rock like guitar riff, the song quickly falls under the spell of Celtic chants, rigid bass drum beats that make it sound more like a song from Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods.
“The Power and the Wake” has a eerie feeling, like a nursery in a spooky movie about disappearing children. Some of the instrumentation sounds similar to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, with dreary woodwinds, low cello hums, and soft flicks on violin strings. The song is lonely and desolate like the dust that circles after a storm.
But this album is still more sophisticated than an environmental musical. The album ends with wind which is not a coincidence. “The Wind Come Carry’s” war-ready snare rolls make this final song somber, yet somehow hopeful.
Elfin Saddle is a band made out of everything, even the kitchen sink. While this album may seem mystifying, eccentric, or even frustrating to some listeners, Devastates is unique and speaks a clear message of self-sustainability.