Transforming Goya’s painting Duelo a garrotazos into an epic noir rock track is one of Elysian Fields most notable milestones to date. After hearing it for the first time, Jennifer Charles’ lingering voice got me swamped as well. Charles’ sleepwalking and somber style is the band’s biggest strength and trademark. For House Cats And Sea Fans therefore contains more of the same delightful romanticism, and, frankly, that’s not a bad thing at all.
Although it’s easy to get stuck in, Elysian Fields work stretches far beyond ‘Duel with Cudgels’. For House Cats And Sea Fans is the band’s ninth release which de facto makes the New Yorkers veterans in the indie scene. Interestingly enough, the term ‘far’ also applies to their popularity. For unknown reasons the European fan base is much broader when compared to the numbers following in the United States. You might say this is a good reason to change your gear at some point in time. Instead Jennifer Charles and guitarist Oren Bloedow chose to continue their journey through the edges of twilight. Musically is hard to pinpoint their sound. Acts such as Beach House and The xx indeed share a few dreamy and noir characteristics but all other comparisons end about here. What differs is that in its core Elysian Fields is a band that heavily leans on blues and jazz traditions.
Main weapon of choice was, and still is the sensual and cloudy voice of Charles. Within the first minute of House Cats And Sea Fans, Charles’ intimate singing causes you to drift away to a smoky jazz lounge, challenging you to come nearer, oh dear…and this just the beginning. Next up is ‘Alms for Your Love’, which is glorious in a whole different way. With Bloedow as vocal support, some light guitar play and the sparse use of a frame drum a floating oriental atmosphere is set that is continued on ‘Next Year in Jerusalem’. Although it starts like a lullaby, drums and strings are later added to swells along with the refrain. The Jerusalem song therefore strongly reminds of the sighing and lingering Charles from earlier releases. In general, the outline of the first and third song can be used to typify the rest of For House Cats And Sea Fans. Throughout the record Charles and Bloedow exchange between thrilling jazz and scenical art rock. Regularly the band returns to the aforementioned imaginary lounge for some sexy jazz. During these occasions Charles treats us to ‘She Gets Down’, ‘Frank, You Ruined Me’ and ‘Love Me Darling’, and honestly, it’s not hard to imagine her in an elegant cocktail-dress. The soft rocking hips that come with this smoothness is replaced with gloomy guitar play on ‘Channeling’ and the hauntingly sung ‘Escape from New York’. After several full listens to For House Cats And Sea Fans I can only conclude that the band is in complete control of the atmosphere and somehow also manages to play around within the margins of emotion. A job well done if you ask me, however I have to add that my typification is just one way of explaining the new Elysian Fields. In reality Charles and Bloedow don’t simply jump between the two extremes of jazz and noir pop rock, but absolutely make use of the spaces that lie in between. Adult contemporary, folk and hints of funk are also a definitive part of this record.
For almost twenty years now, Elysian Fields is building an own tradition with noir pop rock as their steady rationale for style accents are usually only lightly moved on new releases. For House Cats And Sea Fans slightly reminds of older work such as Bum Raps & Love Taps (2005) and Last Night On Earth (2011) and is best compared with The Afterlife (2009). And this is at least a change in signature, a change towards smooth jazz whilst simultaneously branching off into various side paths. Could the latter be the albums greatest weakness or strength? It’s a bit of both if you ask me. For obvious reasons a clear focal point would be nice for listeners. Yet on the other hand, showcasing versatility in this manner is very admirable. And to my opinion versatility is necessary to keep a band interesting over a long period of time. Be that as it may, Elysian Fields builds on, and slowly but surely is turning into an impressive musical powerhouse.
Label: Vicious Circle Records, 2014
- Come Down from the Ceiling (4:20)
- Alms for Your Love (2:44)
- Next Year in Jerusalem (5:28)
- She Gets Down (3:48)
- Channeling (4:17)
- Madeleine (3:28)
- Escape from New York (7:09)
- This Project (4:29)
- Frank, You Ruined Me (3:59)
- Hit by a Wandering Moon (4:23)
- Love Me Darling (4:58)
Review by Wander Meulemans // 250314