A tuneful collision of Athens institutions finds fruition this fall when Orange Twin releases Vic Chesnutt’s collaboration with Elephant 6 psychsters Elf Power, Dark Developments. As intriguing as this combination may seem for hardcore fans of either act, the final sonic results reveal a daunting sum much greater than even the involvement of such esteemed parts would imply. The Elves’ lived-in dexterity as a live band goads Vic’s vocal delivery to a menacing new muscularity, imbuing this batch of songs with a sinister vibe not dissimilar to John Cale’s black classic Fear, the harsh, articulate sleaze of Lou Reed’s Street Hassle or the defeated low key soul-music of Nick Lowe’s last few records. As useful as these benchmark-records are in identifying Dark Developments’ own unique spirit, this record truly stands on its own as a brilliant statement, a classic addition to Athens’ legendary pantheon, and, most importantly, as an organic meeting of two separately-evolved and vital musical entities that never feels forced, flashy or false. This is an important album endemic of a natural partnership, and a great way to spend an afternoon.
Vic Chesnutt’s songwriting retains its trademark literary bent, as a tune like “Stop The Horse,” or the withered gallows-stroll of “The Mad Passion of The Stoic” flash the narrative weight, sturdy construction and lexical mystery of a long lost Raymond Carver story. And Chesnutt can still woo you with the odd, beautiful chord-change, the compelling melody and the strange sonic turn in the road. Album opener “Mystery,” moves from a desperately wordless lullaby into a torchy, fragile folk-waltz and back again in about three minutes time, all the while supporting an intuitive rumination on loss and the passage of time. There’s a reggae stutter buried in the bridges and verses of “Teddy Bear,” an oddball keyboard vamp suturing them all together, and a chorus of strange beheaded whispers orbiting just outside the elemental and poignant refrain: “He ain’t never comin’ back.” Again, this all transpires within the pop-sanctioned three-minute borderline, and the song stands as a totem for just how action-packed this record is on all levels.
Recorded over the course of a winter by Vic and Derek Almstead in Chesnutt’s own attic studio, Dark Developments revels in the intimate, home-recorded atmosphere you’d expect from an Athenian union like his. And Elf Power sounds characteristically powerful in this setting: there’s the crack rhythm section of Almstead and Josh Lott (making his final appearance as an Elf) to anchor the affair, the subtle and tremulous interplay of guitarists Andrew Reiger and Jimmy Hughes, and the esoteric whimsy supplied by Laura Carter’s improvisational Moog and accordion. Indeed, the band’s famously-honed instincts and Day-Glo pop-smarts provide the contradictory musical notions that never allow the album to sway too far in one bleak direction or another: it’s that friction extant between Chesnutt’s shadowy worldview and the inventive bounce and bray of Elf Power’s euphonious intra-band chemistry that buoys Dark Developments, provides its freshness, and makes for rewarding repeated listening.
If you are in Europe this month, be sure to see Vic Chesnutt and Elf Power performing together live on their nine-day tour of Spain. An announcement of US dates is forthcoming.
Vic Chesnutt, Elf Power, and The Amorphous Strums
Dark Developments Tracklisting:
Release Date: October 28th, 2008
02. Little Fucker
03. And How (MP3)
04. Teddy Bear
05. We Are Mean
06. Stop The Horse
07. Bilocating Dog
08. The Mad Passion of The Stoic
09. Phil The Fiddler
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