The Elanors: A Year to Demonstrate (Isidore Records, 2005)
Champaign, IL’s Isidore Records may currently have a limited discography at the time of this review’s writing, but the small music label already has its own distinctive “sound”. With releases from husband and wife duo Joyful Sorrow, as well as a distribution element to the label that features singers/songwriters, Isidore Records has gotten off to a strong start with its “intelligent progressive-folk” leanings. This trend is supported and intact with the label’s latest release A Year to Demonstrate by another creative and listenable folk group, The Elanors. Comprised of Noah & Adriel Harris, along with Joshua Lucas, The Elanors play a brand of mainly acoustic music with a slight jazzy feel and wistful ambience that reminds me of labelmates Joyful Sorrow. On A Year to Demonstrate, the band’s first release, The Elanors‘ sense of musicality and approach to crafting interesting arrangements portrays the band as a solid and promising musical ensemble.
A Year to Demonstrate opens with, of all things, the sound of an antique typewriter, as “Roads To Freedom” begins. The song’s vocal performance from N. Harris sounds amazingly like Thom Yorke, while the melody and song-structure could be ripped from a Radiohead unplugged performance. Strummed guitars, delicate background vocals, and the creative use of the typewriter as a percussion instrument all combine to make this song a memorable introduction to the band’s sound. The much lighter, almost loungesque “Poets” follows, with light keys, jazzy drums, and intertwining guitar parts. The vocals are especially delightful on this song, as N. Harris’s vocals are nimble while A. Harris‘ layered background vocals give a sense of timeless beauty to the song. “Tumble Into Fall” is a more stripped down affair, featuring a solitary picked acoustic guitar underneath vocals. Yet, despite the song’s simple production, “Tumble Into Fall”’s complex guitar part and smart melody breathe space and depth into the recording. For this reviewer, A Year to Demonstrate peaks with the dreamy “Designs”. Featuring brushed percussions, generous background vocals, and nice guitar work, “Designs” conveys a sense of longing that builds throughout the song to a passionate and impressive climax. The band returns to a more stripped-down affair with “Glances”, as simple picked acoustic guitar and piano parts support N. Harris’s sensitive vocals. Next, the band totally turns on its head in terms of song structures, as the band somehow conveys a sense of folk-reggae with the fun “Hold on Me”. Featuring simple radio-friendly and fun lyrics (“You have a hold on me”), the song contains a reggae rhythm played with the same acoustic and undistorted electric guitar sounds that permeate throughout all of A Year to Demonstrate. The band’s ability to successfully meld these two forms of music, as well as the delicious vocal climax of both Harris’ towards the end of the song showcases the band’s talent. The delicate and simple “Day Like Today” next emerges, with its classic background harmonies, nice guitar work, and subtly complex songwriting. Indeed, the remaining four songs on A Year to Demonstrate all serve as a platform for The Elanors’ well-thought out songs, strong vocal performances, and complex guitar work, whether on the sparse jazzy closer “On All Its Strings” or on the dramatic full-band folk/americana approach of “Gunfire”. “Completely”, featuring light jazzy rhythms, and the slow and methodical “Lost in a Seam” also mesmerise the listener and round out this CD’s impressive collection of songs.
There is a lot going on under the seemingly simple surface of A Year to Demonstrate. Despite the stripped-down approach to folk music that The Elanors have taken towards their music, careful listeners will note many sophisticated nuances in their arrangements and performances that result in a very strong debut for this band. A Year to Demonstrate reveals a band of extremely talented artists who know how to create music pieces that are creative and inspiring. Isidore Records have picked another winner. For fans of: light/jazzy folk music, singer/songwriter artists, and gentle, pensive melodies.
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