Welcome to a weekly feature on my blog – Ben’s Zone. Written by husband… Ben. A foodie, coffee obsessed, ex-smoking, ex-drinking and Ridgeback loving Dad. Who is also seriously into his fitness. You can find him on the blog (mostly) on Sundays. Enjoy!
Elephant Tree – Habits – Album Review
One of the more minor consequences of this awful Corona thing is that, due to lockdown, social distancing etc, gigs are cancelled at the moment. When we found out Pearl Jam would not be coming this summer that was bad but, I have to confess, I was equally disappointed to miss the album launch of Habits by Elephant Tree last month. I don’t know a lot about Elephant Tree to be honest, just that I saw them in support of Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard last year and, no offence MWWB, they were my highlight of the evening. Thanks to the magic of subscription based music services I was able to hoover up their discography the very next day. For full disclosure, after listening to previous offerings Theia and Elephant Tree I knew I was going to like Habits but I have to be clear, I didn’t know I would like it this much.
In terms of overall feel, you could probably throw Elephant Tree into the stoner / desert / psych rock camps and while it’s true that you’re going to dig them if you like stuff like Yawning Man, All Them Witches or Brant Bjork, like all really good music it’s got elements of those things and special something else. Unfortunately I have to try and relate this to other stuff or the review would be ‘This is superb, go listen to it’. To be honest I would be happy with that as it is superb and everyone should listen to it but I do feel that it’s incumbent upon me try and give a bit more detail.
Habits kicks off with Wake.Repeat a tense, industrial flavoured into before launching into the first single off Habits, Sails. In terms of sound, Sails does pretty much lay the template for the album, drums and bass in perfect sync with heavy fuzzed up guitar riff conjuring an immense and weighty sound. Some music is heavy because of the speed and distortion, Sails is neither fast nor mega distorted, it’s heavy like Black Sabbath, because all the elements working together lend it a massive gravitas. By the time Peter Holland’s vocals swoop into the mix the journey is on and it feels like being swept along inexorably by some huge force. I went to Niagara Falls once and up close the water looks glassine and smooth but you can see that there are literally thousands of tons pouring over every second. That’s Elephant Tree when they get their heavy on.
That alone would make this album worth a listen but then they drop in the psychedelia and things get really special. Psych stuff is a funny one, sometimes it can be light, abstract and almost twee, sometimes it can be almost punishing in its intensity. You get the whole spectrum here in Habits. Exit the Soul, with playful rhythms in the verse makes me think of Floyd circa See Emily Play but without the somewhat anodyne edge that made Barrett era stuff so lightweight. Later on, on tracks like Bird it gets more into twisty, heavy Iron Butterfly still psych. That being said, Habits remains throughout, its own thing. Magnificent walls of fuzz and bass and drums that seem fused together like steel reign across the album keeping it a unique and delectable sonic experience.
I would have been happy with the volume turned to 11 throughout but mid way, we’re treated to the warmth of ‘Fall Chorus’ a balmy acoustic number where granite rhythms and fuzz give way to moments of pristine fragility. The track isn’t an afterthought, it’s not there to prove they can do ballads, sitting at track 5 it is the eye of a truly magnificent storm.
Unless I don’t know what any of the preceding words mean it should be evident that I love this album to bits. It’s heavy without losing itself, it’s delicate when it wants to be, it’s psychedelic while being focused and it’s progressive without being jarring. To pigeon hole this as anything other than a nourishing aural experience does it a disservice. If I had to make one criticism it’s that at 43 minutes long it always seems to be over just a bit too quickly, but that’s better than the converse I guess.