Elf Power – Creatures

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 1)

I have no good excuse for why I don’t own more Elf Power. Granted, I only have this album and the song “Jane” from the A Dream In Sound album to draw conclusions from, but even so – I am confident I need more Elf Power. An Elephant 6 band from Athens, Georgia, Elf Power began around 1994 as a mostly-solo project by Andrew Rieger. He eventually formalized things with multi-instrumentalist Laura Carter and bassist Bryan Poole (also known as Bryan Helium, and sometimes as The Late B.P. Helium) and at some point Aaron Wegelin joined on drums. The band has released fifteen albums through 2022, with Rieger and Carter as the only mainstays. They opened for REM and Wilco, and recorded with Vic Chesnutt. Wegelin became a chef in Los Angeles after leaving the band; he died in 2021.

What I Think of This Album

There is nothing terribly complicated on Creatures, which is besides the point. The point is that it sounds amazing – the band takes simple melodies and Reiger’s inviting, plaintive voice and carefully embellishes them with varied, fun, and compelling arrangements.

Thus, the band tears through “Everlasting Scream, which it coats in a mile-thick layer of distortion, whereas it adopts a jangly, light-psych approach on “Let the Serpent Sleep.” There is a delicacy to the playing on “The Creature,” which nonetheless comes across as ominous. Indeed, the title track is one of several that furthers the concept at the heart of this album – stories about mysterious, malevolent beasts from the murk. Incidentally, most of Reiger’s lyrics come across as Tolkien if he had grown up listening to Bauhaus and being tutored by Edgar Allan Poe, but only when you read them out of context. Surrounded by music, they sound dramatic but not cartoonish.

“Palace of the Flames” is the poppiest and prettiest of the tunes on offer, driven by keyboards and an insistent drumbeat. Laura Carter’s accordion, assisted by a strong cello part from guest Heather McIntosh and who knows how many keyboards, provides comforting warmth to the waltz “The Modern Mind.” 

“VIsions of the Sea” rides an ice sheet of instrumentation, only to be temporarily waylaid by a series of drones from outer space. While considerably more uptempo, neighboring song “Three Seeds” also relies on drones, and ends up sounding like Simon & Garfunkel backed by a more cheerful, less anarchic Mercury Rev. Closer “The Creature Part II” incorporates some world music percussion (I can’t tell what kind) and fronts Carter’s accordion while Reiger croons gently, leading to a lovely (and sort of druggy?) string part.

Guests include early band member Raleigh Hatfield, as well as Peter Erchick and W. Cullen Hart of fellow Elephant 6ers The Olivia Tremor Control. Heather McIntosh, who has played with Lil Wayne and Gnarls Barkley, now does television and movie scoring.

The Best Thing About This Album

I think it’s a tossup between Carter’s accordion and Wegelin’s drumming.

Release Date

May, 2002

The Cover Art

Not sure what this has to do with anything.I find it sort of disturbing, and not just because it’s a vulnerable-appearing child in the nude. I think it’s mostly the style of the artwork or the medium used. Anyway, it’s a fail for me.

  

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