Feisty neo-trad warriors, Elephant Sessions, stamp an indelible mark on their state of the art highlands fusion.
Release Date: 9th September 2022
Label: Self Released
Format: CD / Digital
When Elephant Sessions kicked off their headlining gig at this year’s Skye Live it was plain to see and hear quite how much thought and effort had gone into this project, translating the band from amiable festival stalwarts, peddling a decent folk rock brew of trad, tinged with the odd dabble of gaelictronica, into something a whole lot more powerful. Suddenly, the audience was witnessing a behemoth, bursting through the chrysalis of expectation. Not so much do you like our new direction, more a you didn’t see the way this was heading, did you? No sir, I hadn’t. They haven’t so much changed, it is as if they have suddenly, after jiggling the key in the lock for the last three albums, turned it and unleashed the sheer size of the earlier promise. Or should I say, sheer sound, as it is the rhythm section that are at the forefront, the pounding drums of Greg Barry and the rumble of bass from Seth Tinsley. That Barry also guides the samples and effects from his kit, and Tinsley adds atmospheric synths, seems to demonstrate quite who’s in charge.
The album stamps in with a hard boot print, just as did that show, starting with the same tune, the title track. Proving, not for the first time, Scottish music history being littered with similar, there is always more funk in the fibres of pale white highlanders than you might ever expect or imagine. Tinsley and Barry come galumphing in with a confident strut and swagger, taking the floor with a bubble of underlying electronica. Euan Smilie’s fiddle then glides in with an infectious melody, riff, even, leading the way before the glorious entry of Alasdair Taylor’s mandolin, the two of them then engaging in a cascade of unison intricacy. A middle section of juddery treatments, maintains attention, ahead, not a foot out of place, of breaking back into the main tune. Terrific.
The muted electronic ambience of Is This A Vibe follows, unless you have succumbed to the irresistible lure of replaying the opener. Treated pizzicato plucking picks over a synthesiser, a gradual build emerging, the pulse of percussion becoming more pronounced. Back and forth, up and down, it repeats, adding and subtracting layers of washed in sound, becoming a trance-like non-verbal mantra. With nary a nod, After Hours heads then straight back to the party, or maybe the mean streets, an anything but average white band. If the Dundee Horns had been replaced by jigging fiddle and mandolin, their marriage with the impeccable backbeat gives no cause for question or concern. The fiddle is multitracked into full orchestral mode, with Taylor gleefully plucking away over the surface. Hibernian heaven.
Taransay, as in the island from BBC’s Castaway 2000, for those of that vintage, is mellower fruit. Not for the first time, echoes of Shooglenifty’s ‘acid croft’ vibe become apparent, the influence and legacy of this still active band, together with Peatbog Faeries, clearly deep in the mix. But, now, as contemporaries and equals rather than copyists, and this tune is all theirs, as is the clout. A call and response section between the bass, on the higher notes, and the fiddle, the mandolin then layering above both, is both mesmerising and memorable. A bit of bleep and booster, more pizzicato, each blurred by FX, and we arrive into Moonwake, which for all that introductory jiggery-pokery, carries then perhaps the most trad sounding melody, a most gracious air. As it explodes into full dance/electronica, that focus remains, intact. Which is clever.
Another unashamed club banger is Rebirth, which may have Niteworks looking anxiously over their shoulders. It positively bowls along, the percussion and bass middle eight, mixing organic and artificial, an especial joy. Ebbe then flows, sorry, in, on a bed of strings, a fiddle lament that dials down the mood, if with then some stuttering effects that beckon in a gradual acceleration. My overactive imagination is seeing the wounded stag pick himself slowly from the babbling burn, the sampled ripples of water feeding that idea before he slowly lurches into the surrounding forest. (Ed: skip the cheese toasties at bedtime!)
Finally, and to close, comes the most experimental and ambitious track, FM. A sampled radio announcer is talking, the source unlikely to be BBC Alba, given the clear American tones. What sounds as if it could be Pastime Paradise starts slowly cranking up alongside, this resembles little thus far. A more local voice and Taylor and Smillie are off. The bass and drums bob and weave beneath, the mix of styles blending strangely well, little note of any contrived join. Normally no fan of talkie samples, here it works well. As it draws to a (false) end, a reprise suddenly kicks off with an oddly dated guitar solo, that oddness part of the intrigue, the fiddle then sashaying back with disco strings. As you try to gather what is left of your wits, poof, it stops, gone, just like that, mid-note.
Here’s a taste with the second track, Is This A Vibe: