Sunday 29 March 2020

ALBUM REVIEW: Elephant Tree, “Habits”

By: Andrew Field

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 23rd April 2020
Label: Holy Roar Records

“Habits” CD//DD//LP track listing:

1). Wake.Repeat
2). Sails
3). Faceless
4). Exit The Soul
5). The Fall Chorus
6). Bird
7). Wasted
8). Broken Nails

The Review:

Listening to “Habits” in advance of its release has remind me of the first time I heard Nirvana’s “Nevermind”, knowing that I was about to lose one of my favourite underground bands to the masses. A mix of joy and sadness pervades. On the one hand I’ll be able to say I was there at the beginning, watching them play tiny venues like The Unicorn in Camden or the Alma Inn in Bolton. On the other hand, I now know they’ll shortly no longer be our little secret. I’ll now have to share them with thousands (maybe tens of thousands) of others, because this album is going to catapult them into the stratosphere.

Elephant Tree have taken their time with this album. These seven songs have gestated during the four-year period since their eponymous second release in 2016, with the band honing them on the road and Riley Macintyre unleashing the multiple tools at his disposal at Church studio in London (U2, Paul McCartney, Radiohead). And boy does it tell. “Habits” sounds like a hundred million dollars. We’re not just talking about just the kitchen sink being in these grooves, they’ve fitted a whole house in there. Musically, “Habits” is a five-course meal. It sounds like it was recorded in a cathedral, or on a mountain top, and is musically uplifting and wondrous.

Lyrically we’re in polar opposite territory. This is one very dark record. Thematically it touches on loss, regret, fucking up, self-loathing, depression, loneliness, anxiety, paranoia, and the inevitability of death. Only “Bird”, with its refrain of “soft wings brush the cloud up above, soaring high - welcome rays of sun, fly, fly” offers any respite from the emotional murk and melancholy which seeps from almost every word Pete (Holland, bass and vocals) or Jack (Townley, guitar and vocals) sings.

A sense of sadness and poignancy is there from the first line of “Sails”, which follows introductory instrumental “Wake”: “So long, fading, don’t leave me alone” Jack sings and you instantly want to give him a hug. Then they springboard into far darker territory with the caustic “Faceless” (“crawling the walls, sapping my soul…. vision tunnelled, fluorescent black hole”). “Faceless” encapsulates all that is thrilling about Elephant Tree: a slow burning build-up anchored by multi-part harmonies and Sam Hart’s simple hi-hat shuffle, followed by a Jack Townley Dave Gilmour-esque guitar solo which will set your spine a-tingling. But that’s just a starter for the main meal, which comes in the second half of the song: the biggest, most head-noddingly savage passage which sees the main riff gently, teasingly bend around a single note, exploring either side of it before exploding into an almost orchestral, heavenly crescendo of widescreen sonic musical blancmange before fading in a drawn-out Krautrock keyboard drone. It is, quite simply, breathtakingly good.

“Exit The Soul” explores reflections on living and dying, and how we come to realise there’s an end point for all of us. It’s a seven-minute ethereal epic which makes you feel like you’re bathing in sound, eventually erupting into a palatial snail-pace drone and choir-of-angels Phil Spektor-eque wall of sound. “The Fall Chorus” is an achingly beautiful acoustic-driven number with harmonies and strings and Tow nley'sbest vocal yet. It brings to mind the soundtrack to a spaghetti western starring Clint Eastwood, wide open plains and the Rocky Mountains shimmering in the distance.

“Bird” is the album’s money shot: a mid-tempo soaring chorus with monster harmonies is the album’s high point and sole spirit-lifting moment.  Wasted” is a waltz about what goes through your mind when you’re coming down after a massive bender (“I can’t stand the way I destroy everything in me”), built around fat, grinding dirt-under-the-fingers-nails guitar work from Townley.

The album closes with “Broken Nails”, which is the best thing the band has put its name to and hopefully an indication of where they’re headed next. It’s a brave and unique song, starting with an acoustic guitar recorded so close to the strings you can hear them scrape and slide, building via a passage of clashing dissonance into a full-blown space opera. It sounds like no-one else, takes a while to make sense, and leaves you wanting much more of it.

The weight of expectation after their last album must have weighed heavily on Elephant Tree’s shoulders. They needed to make a stunningly good record. They can rest easy in the realisation that they’ve done exactly that. “Habits” is an exceptional piece of work and an essential purchase. What a band they are. What an album this is. Sheer sonic perfection.

“Habits” is available HERE

Band info: bandcamp || facebook