Dissecting the enveloping sound of Elbow

Full bodied
By JONATHAN DONALDSON  |  September 20, 2011

HIGH IDEALS Elbow’s Build A Rocket Boys! uses the intensity and saturation of pastoral folk without referencing that genre’s telltale tropes or instrumentation. 

Like a husky boy after his second plate at the Thanksgiving table, Elbow's music has become pretty damn comfortable. It doesn't really rock, it doesn't really roll — in fact there might not even be a cymbal or a snare drum on their latest record, Build a Rocket Boys!, until the beginning of the ninth track.

But not all music has to rock or roll, unless it advertises itself as alternative rock. Still, it would be fair to say that since their swampy, atmospheric 2008 Mercury Prize-winning album, The Seldom Seen Kid, the English quintet (who are playing a sold-out Paradise on Monday) have grown a little soft in the belly. (Although Elbow have yet to have their OK Computer-moment in the US, they've won the vaunted Mercury once and have been thrice nominated — which included a defeat earlier this month to PJ Harvey.) But Elbow find their own reasons to skip past the ephemeral joys of rock and roll in favor of the controlled setting of their studio — where according to bassist Pete Turner, the band continually finds itself in a state of dissection and analysis. "The simplest sounds get pored over and really thought out," says Turner from his home in Manchester.

In fact, Elbow themselves might not even know what their songs sound like on a visceral level until they hear them through the ears of their audience. "Touring is a great way of realizing the effect you can have on people," says Turner. "When you see a couple in front holding onto each other, and you realize it means something to them."

Released in March on Fiction/Polydor, Build A Rocket Boys! (their fifth album since 2001) is certainly a well-constructed work, one that uses the intensity and saturation of pastoral folk without referencing that genre's telltale tropes or instrumentation. Instead, Elbow infuse the songs with mildly-progressive arrangements and extra-warm tones — electric pianos, tuned percussion, a sympathetic chorus (the Hallé Youth Choir), not to mention singer Guy Garvey's chiseled yearning. The end result sounds like a contemporary soundtrack to a film that doesn't exist — an estimation that the band themselves would probably approve of.

Magic moments do emerge in the foreground, such as the most recent single, "Lippy Kids," where a twinkling waltz takes flight like a spontaneous flock of birds. But Elbow are the first ones to admit that they aren't too concerned with the instant gratification that most bands peddle.

"We look at the album as a body of work, and that's what excites us and inspires us," says Turner. Yet as much as their work sounds like a soundtrack, the blunt reality is that there is no film to drive things along. In order for listeners to get the full effect of Elbow's music, they have to commit themselves to repeated listens until the bigger picture emerges. Perhaps in Elbow's mind, the idea of the visceral single is something puerile to the core. Concerned with longevity — more accurately, critical longevity — Elbow music gets its tie straightened by its wife before leaving for work. "We want to maintain our position," Turner says. And if all five members are democratically involved in the writing/re-writing process, think of how many idiosyncratic impulses must get killed along the way?

"We take our music very seriously, but we don't take ourselves very seriously as people," says Turner.

ELBOW + GLASSER | Paradise Rock Club, 967 Comm Ave, Boston | September 26 @ 7 pm | 18+ | $30 | 617.562.8800

Related: Death Cab for Cutie crack familiar Codes, Dum Dum Girls | Only In Dreams, Ten years in, Ladytron grounded by Gravity, More more >
  Topics: Music Features , Paradise Rock Club, Music, Pop,  More more >
| More

Most Popular
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   THE UNIFIED MELODY OF SLOWDIM  |  March 20, 2013
    Slowdim drink wine with pizza. It's true. I was there.
  •   THE MARY ONETTES | HIT THE WAVES  |  March 13, 2013
    Hit the Waves is so heartfelt as a pastiche of '80s alternative music that it almost muscles its way into being brilliant.
  •   THE MODERN RETRO OF JESSE DEE  |  March 05, 2013
    On his new record On My Mind/In My Heart , the question is not if Jesse Dee can step up to the challenge of making authentic soul and R&B music in 2013, but rather how he goes about it.
  •   TAME IMPALA’S NEW SURROUND SOUND  |  March 08, 2013
    Whether it's Bradford Cox with Deerhunter, or Dan Snaith with Caribou, or Kevin Parker with Tame Impala, there must be something with this trend in sonic auteurs with cervine band names.
    "It seems like a challenge to make something that you have to pay a lot of attention to," says Josh Dibbs.

 See all articles by: JONATHAN DONALDSON