I’m sick of the Elephant 6 retro-pop collective. Sure, they have their share of transcendent bands, of which Neutral Milk Hotel and Apples In Stereo are far and away the best, but the more I hear from the loosely-knit unit of acts the more I get annoyed. Why is it that Beulah’s latest album has garnered such high praise? Because it used a slew of instrumentalists and non-traditional, Brian Wilson-inspired arrangements and recording techniques right out of Pet Sounds? I couldn’t get into the songs at all! A pop song must not be judged upon how cleverly you use the theremin or layer track upon track of sound. Or how about the Music Tapes, the project of Julian Koster, one of the non-writing members of Neutral Milk Hotel, which has gotten alot of press primarily because some of the songs were partially recorded on an old Edison cylinder? Totally lame-o, low-fi, and gimmicky, with less hooks than an alligator belly.
The Marshmallow Coast isn’t a PROPER Elephant 6 recording, as I don’t see the distinctive E6 logo anywhere on the artwork. However, it is the creative outlet for one Andy Gonzales, who is a sometime-member of the aforementioned Music Tapes, and it sure sounds and feels an AWFUL lot like one of these lower-tier E6 releases.
Much more minimalist than sound-crafters Beulah and the Music Tapes, though, Seniors and Juniors is very much a home-recorded hobby album. Where the aforementioned bands spent too much time on sound and arrangement and not enough time on actual songs, the Marshmallow Coast does it a bit the opposite: there ARE hints of quality musical moments on the record, but done up with out of tune pianos, badly-played clarinets, and one-take “find me endearing because i’m not TRYING to sing well” vocals. Mr. Gonzales seems to be ABLE to write a memorable tune, but doesn’t include enough of them here.
An erstwhile “concept” album that seems to be a depiction of a single day of school, with titles like “off to school”, “creative writing”, and “little pythagoras”, the numerous though mercifully brief instrumentals that are dispersed throughout the album apparently to provide the transitions between school-day moments totally destroy the momentum of the better tracks on the record. Listening to “Bizarre Classical I” on headphones just now, I was told it sounded like I was “listening to dial tones”. Those might be more interesting. This is not how to make an enduring pop album. The Marshmallow Coast does show some signs of life on Seniors and Juniors, but overall the record sounds like it was made mostly for themselves and for their like-minded friends. Recommended only for abject Elephant 6 junkies or fans of shambling, underachieving indie pop.