Imagine for a moment that you spent most of 1999 trying to get your mind around the slippery concept of “post-rock”. Picture yourself shuffling bewilderedly through piles of Tortoise and Aerial/Papa M records, scrabbling desperately for context amid a sea. Luckily—perhaps—1999 heralded an exponential explosion of quasi-improvisational, instrumental artists, all eager to hang their resale shop sportcoats on the post-rock peg.
So what does Elephant deliver that the competition doesn’t? Well, by adhering more tightly to traditional rock structure, particularly where percussion is concerned, Pele frees the novice listener from the hassle of interpreting non-traditional, free jazz-influenced time signatures. This channels a greater degree of attention to the central melodic constructs—guitar “phrases” of varying complexity which repeat, overlap, intermesh and ultimately mesmerize. “Pickled Pear,” for instance, holds at its heart a brief melodic theme that’s both jauntily upbeat and brain-ticklingly complex; attentive listening reveals sympathetic bass accompaniment lurking in the depths of the mix.
“A Scuttled Bender in a Watery Closet,” meanwhile, begins as a moody, down-tempo exercise, but quickly accelerates, eventually unleashing a torrent of small musical epiphanies reminiscent of early Smashing Pumpkins or even earlier New Order.
In a genre in which the worst excesses are, ironically, lengthy sequences bereft of detail, Pele is a model of brevity. Whether by luck or design, Elephant‘s first few tunes retain traditional pop song length and structure, providing a familiar foundation prior to easing new listeners into the album’s closing epics. Smart move.
Unfortunately, despite clever details and entry-level accessibility, Pele is still another band that cranks out slow, gentle instrumentals on guitar, bass and drums. To the casual listener, Pele’s sound is not particularly unique, lacking a distinguishing twist or a historical precedent. Like many other bands in crowded genres, their success will be determined by the luck of the draw.