Music

Elkhorn Improvise the Hypnotic 'Storm Sessions'

Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Instrumental guitar duo Elkhorn tweak the formula with a third musician on their latest album, The Storm Sessions. Rarely has a blizzard sounded this good.

The Storm Sessions
Elkhorn

Beyond Beyond Is Beyond

7 February 2020

In 2013, Jesse Sheppard and Drew Gardner formed Elkhorn, a duo capable of unspooling mesmerizing long-form guitar improvisations. With Sheppard on 12-string acoustic and Gardner handling six-string electric, their sound is capable of evoking both calm and eerie danger. Over the course of several albums, they've stuck to a fairly consistent formula.

The Storm Sessions signals a slightly different sound, and it's one that can be attributed to manpower. As a result of circumstances beyond their control, Sheppard and Gardner have invited their friend Turner Williams into the fold. Williams, who records under the moniker Ramble Tamble, found himself snowed in with the other two guitarists "on the night of an emotionally important gig" (so says the press release, which mysteriously fails to elaborate). Thus, a weather-inspired collaboration was formed.

Stuck with instruments to play and nowhere to go, this duo temporarily became a trio, recording two side-long improvisations (titled "Electric One" and "Electric Two" with each side split into three separate subsections) totaling roughly 45 minutes. Adding to the duo's guitars, Williams contributes electric bouzouki on one side and shahi baaja on the other. The latter instrument, the name of which translates to "royal instrument", is an electrified and slightly modified version of the Indian bulbul tarang, a type of Indian zither with keys added to alter the pitch of the strings. Williams' presence adds a unique element to the sound, but it doesn't drastically alter it. Rather, it deepens what's already a captivating template.

The triple layer of sound is used to haunting effect from the very beginning. Williams enters the picture gradually, taking advantage of his instrument's haunting, drone-like qualities, eventually adding a more distorted sound profile as the first side progresses. Sheppard and Gardner successfully join forces in the kind of way that two long-time collaborators usually do – it's almost like osmosis, a thick slab of dark pastoral folk with the electric guitar reminiscent of Jerry Garcia's intricate improvisational style. Williams darts in and out with plenty of interesting, unique ideas – he clicks with the other two immediately, and it never seems like an unwelcome intrusion.

While the three musicians seem to move in all sorts of directions but never to the point of breaking free of each other, there are moments when they gel beautifully as one cohesive unit. That is particularly apparent in "Electric Two (Part B)", as a subtle, almost strobe-like staccato effect overtakes them. The effect is hypnotic, and most likely, something of a happy accident within the freeform improvisational structure.

Great albums have come out of the most unusual circumstances, and with The Storm Sessions, Elkhorn proves that it's possible to take an unforeseen episode and turn into a transcendent evening of pure, unfiltered inspiration. Rarely has a blizzard sounded this good.

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Dancing in the Street: Our 25 Favorite Motown Singles

Detroit's Motown Records will forever be important as both a hit factory and an African American-owned label that achieved massive mainstream success and influence. We select our 25 favorite singles from the "Sound of Young America".

Music

The Durutti Column's 'Vini Reilly' Is the Post-Punk's Band's Definitive Statement

Mancunian guitarist/texturalist Vini Reilly parlayed the momentum from his famous Morrissey collaboration into an essential, definitive statement for the Durutti Column.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

What Will Come? COVID-19 and the Politics of Economic Depression

The financial crash of 2008-2010 reemphasized that traumatic economic shifts drive political change, so what might we imagine — or fear — will emerge from the COVID-19 depression?

Music

Datura4 Take Us Down the "West Coast Highway Cosmic" (premiere)

Australia's Datura4 deliver a highway anthem for a new generation with "West Coast Highway Cosmic". Take a trip without leaving the couch.

Music

Teddy Thompson Sings About Love on 'Heartbreaker Please'

Teddy Thompson's Heartbreaker Please raises one's spirits by accepting the end as a new beginning. He's re-joining the world and out looking for love.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Little Protests Everywhere

Wherever you are, let's invite our neighbors not to look away from police violence against African Americans and others. Let's encourage them not to forget about George Floyd and so many before him.

Music

Carey Mercer's New Band Soft Plastics Score Big with Debut '5 Dreams'

Two years after Frog Eyes dissolved, Carey Mercer is back with a new band, Soft Plastics. 5 Dreams and Mercer's surreal sense of incongruity should be welcomed with open arms and open ears.

Music

Sondre Lerche Rewards 'Patience' with Clever and Sophisticated Indie Pop

Patience joins its predecessors, Please and Pleasure, to form a loose trilogy that stands as the finest work of Sondre Lerche's career.

Film

Ruben Fleischer's 'Venom' Has No Bite

Ruben Fleischer's toothless antihero film, Venom is like a blockbuster from 15 years earlier: one-dimensional, loose plot, inconsistent tone, and packaged in the least-offensive, most mass appeal way possible. Sigh.

Books

Cordelia Strube's 'Misconduct of the Heart' Palpitates with Dysfunction

Cordelia Strube's 11th novel, Misconduct of the Heart, depicts trauma survivors in a form that's compelling but difficult to digest.

Music

Reaching For the Vibe: Sonic Boom Fears for the Planet on 'All Things Being Equal'

Sonic Boom is Peter Kember, a veteran of 1980s indie space rockers Spacemen 3, as well as Spectrum, E.A.R., and a whole bunch of other fascinating stuff. On his first solo album in 30 years, he urges us all to take our foot off the gas pedal.

Film

Old British Films, Boring? Pshaw!

The passage of time tends to make old films more interesting, such as these seven films of the late '40s and '50s from British directors John Boulting, Carol Reed, David Lean, Anthony Kimmins, Charles Frend, Guy Hamilton, and Leslie Norman.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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