[5 March 2012]
Despite colloquial usage to the contrary, nostalgia is not celebration or replication of the past, but a longing for beloved places and circumstances lost to time. When it comes to nostalgic mourning in this sense, pop musicians often go back-to-basics, as if plaintive acoustic strumming somehow represented a universally shared vision of pastoral innocence and happiness. But that’s just not the kind of music that Brooklyn-based electronic duo Elika makes. When the band turned its musical attention to a nostalgia informed by the passing of singer/multi-instrumentalist Evagelia Maravelias’s father, Maravelias and fellow multi-instrumentalist Brian Wenckebach didn’t strive for a mythic authenticity promised by wood and strings. They simply continued to do what they do best, but better.
Indeed, the glitchy grooves, organ, and fuzz bass that power Always the Light‘s centerpiece and most overt elegy, “No One Gets Lost”, aren’t much of a departure from the template established on previous albums, like 2010’s not-as-silly-as-it-sounds Snuggle Bunnies. The difference comes in the masterful pairing of sonics and sentiment. There’s an audible lump in Maravelias’s throat when she sings of her father, “Before you left, you said you said, ‘No one gets lost / In this world’”, but it’s just barely concealed by her resolve to follow his wishes and move on. The syncopated barrage of loops and drones echo this complex mix of strength and emotional slippage.
Despite the loss that seems to drive Always the Light, from parents dying to the impermanence of youth to the slow fade of relationships, Elika never resorts to mawkishness, letting the natural tinge of sadness in Maravelias’s voice do the work. In her delivery, unmistakably reminiscent of early Madonna, simple statements like “Days run into each other / We forget one another / We’re lost” take on an urgent, intimate tone. There’s reconciliation, as well. On “Trials”, the final full song before the last of the album’s four short interlude pieces, Wenckebach accompanies the lines “Can you hear me singing my song? / It took you so long to say / That I love you that way” with a fog of bending guitar notes, and the duo achieve a nearly U2-like spiritual grandeur.
Elika’s decision to cloak mourning and nostalgia in bright, trebly fuzz and spare, flitting electronic percussion counter-intuitively makes Always the Light a wonderfully humane album of lamentation. It’s the sunny morning after a sleepless night, when emotions are raw, but beauty is all the more perceptible.