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The Graham Album Review #1892

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Elbow: Little Fiction
by George Graham

(Concord Records As broadcast on WVIA-FM 3/29/2016)

Ever since the British Invasion of the 1960s, when English rock bands started to have an impact on the American music scene, there have been a number of British groups who enjoyed considerable commercial success in the UK, but did not have much of an impact on the American music scene except perhaps for attracting cult audiences. The English folk scene, for example, has been that way for decades.

This week we have a new recording by a group which had its start over a quarter century ago and has sold over a million copies of their music in the UK, but is relatively little-known in the US, though most of their recordings have been available on this side of the Atlantic. The group is called Elbow, and their new seventh studio album is called Little Fictions. It’s an intelligent, often contemplative album that I suppose could be likened to mellow art rock, with musical and lyrical sophistication and a generally appealing sound.

Elbow’s origins can be traced back to 1990 when lyricist and lead vocalist Guy Garvey met guitarist Mark Potter when they were attending college in their hometown of Bury, near Manchester. Potter asked Garvey to join a band he was in. With bassist Pete Turner they formed a group called Mr. Soft. In 1997, they renamed the group Elbow.

They were signed for a record deal and made an album, but it was never released after their record label was absorbed by a larger one in merger. Elbow recorded a couple of independent EPs, before putting out their first full-length album in 2001 called Asleep in the Back, and began to attract attention and awards. Interestingly, the band played Cuba in 2004. Over the years, they continued to gain popularity in the UK, and did an extensive US tour in 2008 and 2009, including opening for Coldplay on several stops. In 2011, the BBC enlisted Elbow to compose a theme for their 2012 Olympic coverage and the project involved a symphony orchestra and choir.

Elbow’s last album, in 2014, The Take Off and Landing of Everything, which we featured on Mixed Bag here on WVIA, debuted in the UK at Number One.

Now they are out with Little Fictions. Since their last release, their original drummer Richard Jupp left the group, and rather than replace him with another full-time drummer on the new album, they brought in a couple of different drummer/percussionists who created loops and samples which were used throughout the album. The approach they use, however, is not typical of loop and sample-based rhythms. Often they are interesting interlocking rhythmic patterns, which gives the album a distinctive sound.

The group’s sophisticated but often contemplative sound can remind one of another influential British cult band The Blue Nile. Lyrically, the music on this album consists mainly of love songs, but there is usually a twist to the words and lyricist-vocalist Garvey can be inventively poetic. The band is mostly self-contained on the album, but they are joined on a couple of tracks by a full orchestra, the strings of the Hallé Orchestra from Manchester and a choir. They are used in a generally subtle way in the arrangements.

Opening is a piece called Magnificent (She Says), which sums up the album’s sound. The piece revolves around the slightly unconventional rhythmic figure, with the string orchestra making an appearance. <<>>

One of the more interesting tracks is called Trust the Sun, which is a complicated love song lyrically and features creative use of the percussion loops. <<>>

A bit more like contemporary alternative rock is a song called All Disco with its distinctive and somewhat cryptic lyrics. <<>>

More laid-back in sound is another piece with opaque love-song lyrics is Head for Supplies. The band and the added backing chorus provide distinctive sonic textures. <<>>

The rhythmic looping technique the band uses on this album can often give a somewhat unconventional pulse to the music, with the band’s instrumentation providing almost a counter-rhythm to the loops. On the track called K2, presumably about the mountain peak near Mount Everest, this gives the piece distinctive sound. <<>>

The title track, Little Fictions, is the lengthiest on the album, with something like an art-rock multi-part arrangement. It’s the album’s centerpiece. <<>>

The CD ends with Kindling, another love song with a kind of rootsy sound with lyrics about parting. <<>>

Little Fictions, the new album by the long-running British band Elbow, is a fine new record of sophisticated art-pop with a slightly melancholy tinge. The group has been quite successful in the UK, but despite touring the US and previous American releases,

Our grade for audio quality is about an A-minus. There is good sonic clarity, and the use of studio effects is handled tastefully. I have my usual complaint about dynamic range with the recording compressed to make it sound artificially louder which strips away some of the ebb and flow of the performance. But overall, it’s a nice-sounding recording.

Elbow’s new seventh full-length studio album Little Fictions is a thoroughly worthwhile recording that features a distinctive blend of influences tastefully assembled into a very listenable sound that is full of the kind of details that allows one to discover new things on each successive listening.


(c) Copyright 2017 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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