Elf Power: Walking with the Beggar Boys

Kevin Jagernauth

Elf Power

Walking with the Beggar Boys

Label: Orange Twin
US Release Date: 2004-04-06
UK Release Date: 2004-04-12

Along with Apples in Stereo and Of Montreal, Elf Power are one of the few bands from the infamous Elephant 6 Recording Company collective to continue performing. Some of the best-known and better-received groups from the collective have either soldiered on or disbanded altogether. After releasing the fantastic When Your Heartstrings Break, Beulah spent the next two albums dodging the Elephant 6, hippie, twee-pop stigma. The collective's finest group, Neutral Milk Hotel, disbanded after the wonderful, haunting and dark In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, with enigmatic front man Jeff Magnum all but disappearing from music scene.

Elf Power has largely been responsible for tripped-out psychedelic pop songwriting, creating new worlds for their particular brand of fuzzed out hippie rock. Thus it is with a bit of surprise that their seventh full-length, Walking with the Beggar Boys finds the group playing it straight. As that magnificent asshole, Simon Cowell, is so fond of saying on American Idol lately, Elf Power seems to be playing it "safe".

It is somewhat of a surprising tactic given the group's history. Their third album, Creatures, was produced by the Flaming Lips frequent collaborator Dave Fridmann, and previous releases are certainly not wanting in truly unique visions of songwriting. And it is against this background that Walking With The Beggar Boys comes across as just -- ordinary. Heavily influenced by the stylings of '60s and '70s groups like the Byrds and the guitar rock of T. Rex, Elf Power's effort at mature songwriting simply plays out as FM-lite.

This type of review is particularly difficult to write as there is nothing bad about the album per se. It's enjoyable, easy to listen to, you can nod your head to it, and it is simply very bland. It lacks the visionary scope that Of Montreal often brings to the table with their records or the intense personality of Neutral Milk Hotel. Rather than playing to their strengths, it seems Elf Power is trying to carve a progressive niche for themselves as accomplished songsmiths, but have ended up sounding like everyone else. There isn't anything here that I can recommend to a person that has never heard Elf Power before, and longtime fans are surely in for a surprise.

Occasionally the band will step things up a notch, and create a small nugget of a melody that will wind its way into your brain. The title track finds some nice call and response vocals that will be humming in your head long after the CD is over. "The Cracks" find some nicely distorted drum machine beats introducing a refreshingly darker number that is not unlike the Decemberists meet David Bowie. "Don't Let It Be" is a faux-Kinks rave up that will surely find itself on mix tapes around college campuses by summer's end.

Too bad these moments are few and far between. Elf Power are a band limitless talent and vision and it's somewhat disappointing to see the group playing against themselves. The family friendly bar band shtick that seems to pervade most of Walking with the Beggar Boys is the sign of a band no longer looking to take chances or challenge themselves.





The Texas Gentlemen Share the Powerful and Soulful "Last Call" (premiere)

Eclectic Texas band, the Texas Gentlemen return with a vibrant, imaginative LP that resists musical boundaries. Hear their latest epic single, "Last Call".


Vincent Cross Pays Tribute to Folk Hero via "King Corcoran" (premiere)

Gangs of New York-era James "The Rooster" Corcoran was described as the terror of New York's east side. His descendent, Vincent Cross, retells his story with a "modern dark fairy tale".


Eddy Lee Ryder Gets Lonely and Defiant with "Expected to Fly" (premiere)

Eddy Lee Ryder explores the loss of friendship and refusal to come of age, cloaked in the deeply dramatic and powerful song, "Expected to Fly".


Rock 'n' Roll with Chinese Characteristics: Nirvana Behind the Great Wall

Like pretty much everywhere else in the pop music universe, China's developing rock scene changed after Nirvana. It's just that China's rockers didn't get the memo in 1991, nor would've known what to do with it, then.


Creative Disruption in 'Portrait of a Lady on Fire'

Portrait of a Lady on Fire yearns to burn tyrannical gendered tradition to ash and remake it into something collaborative and egalitarian.


Fave Five: The Naked and Famous

Following two members leaving the group in 2018, synthpop mavens the Naked and Famous are down to a duo for the first time ever and discuss the records they turned to help make their aptly-named fourth record, Recover.

Evan Sawdey

Fleetwood Dissects the European Mindset in His Moody, Disturbing Thriller, 'A Young Fair God'

Hugh Fleetwood's difficult though absorbing A Young Fair God offers readers a look into the age-old world views that have established and perpetuated cultural rank and the social attitudes that continue to divide us wherever we may reside in the world.


Art Feynman Creates Refreshing Worldbeat Pop on 'Half Price at 3:30'

On Half Price at 3:30, Art Feynman again proves himself adept at building colorful worlds from unexpected and well-placed aural flourishes.


The Beths Are Sharp As Ever on 'Jump Rope Gazers'

New Zealand power-poppers the Beths return with a sophomore album that makes even the most senior indie-rock acts feel rudimentary by comparison.


Jessie Ware Returns to Form on 'What's Your Pleasure'

On What's Your Pleasure, Jessie Ware returns to where it all began, the dance floor.


The Jayhawks Offer Us Some 'XOXO'

The Jayhawks offer 12-plus songs on XOXO to help listeners who may be alone and scared by reminding us that we are all alone together.


Steve McDonald Remembers the Earliest Days of Redd Kross

Steve McDonald talks about the year that produced the first Redd Kross EP, an early eighth-grade graduation show with a then-unknown Black Flag, and a punk scene that welcomed and defined him.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.