Elk City: Status

Elk City
Hidden Agenda

Elk City’s Status comes across as an effortless echo of the Velvet Underground, Mazzy Star, Kristin Hersh/Throwing Muses/Tanya Donnelly, Lisa Germano and Yo La Tengo. A trio which manage a rich and dynamic sound, Elk City have come up with an album melding all these influences which unfold like the goth-folk of so many This Mortal Coil records. Like those TMC records, there’s a deliberate attention to sonic detailing, effective for the most part, especially when it highlights Renee LoBue’s vocal pastiches (and unfortunately stresses, perhaps too often, Peter Langland-Hassan’s less appealing voice). To their credit, Elk City are less affected than most TMC recordings, less precious, less pristine and less interested in burnishing songs into impossibly smooth surfaces with no depth. Instead, Elk City’s artful precision lies in the ability to neatly space the instruments and vocals, leaving just enough room for experimental embellishment and neatly appointed ambient flourishes, eschewing TMC’s detached chilly cool and bathing the album in a radiant sophistication that’s warm to the touch.

Status is an open sounding record, at moments given over to a folk/hippie pop sensibility, at others inclined to rock out. To their credit, any threat of ethereal drift dissipates quickly, with well-placed guitar and drums providing an anchor throughout the album. Perhaps that underhanded hippie diss is a little disingenuous, as most of their reference points firmly locate them in a New York/East Coast boho scene, with a visual affirmation of cosmo-cred on the cover supplied by three shadowy figures cast in a dingy dimly-lit loft. If it does nothing else, it’s an image that certainly ironizes their cover of “Calfornia Dreaming” (while also pointing to the origins of the Malkmus-like vocal stylings of Langland-Hassan).

The opening track, “Dreams of Steam,” sets the mood: light country twang, accordion, boy/girl vocals trading off, gelling around some placeless samples and ambient noise. The post-apocalyptic setting of “Love’s Like a Bomb,” with its cleverly cryptic lyrics (“Make bread and take it to your father’s grave / Break bread and eat it on your mother’s grave”), placed alongside the muted grandeur of “Fall Out of Reach,” are immediate standouts. The rockiest track, “Ground Breaking,” comes across like Pavement doing Luna doing the Velvets, and “Fall Out of Reach” sounds like the Throwing Muses doing T-Rex posthumously commissioned for a Hal Hartley soundtrack. This sort of influence-peddling is less than criminal if done with some savvy. Elk City have loads of it, and they’ve put together a beauty of a record here, one full of grit and grace that’s just in time for languid summer nights.