Turning to the Creatures for help

Naureen Shah

If the name Elf Power makes you giggle, you’re only taking this Athens, Georgia, band slightly less seriously than you should. With just the right mix of psychedelic, beach-going playfulness and brooding, indie sadness, Creatures solidifies Elf Power’s position as one of the foremost second-generation bands of the Elephant Six indie-pop collective, which includes the up-and-coming San Francisco band Beulah, the well-seasoned The Apples In Stereo and the revered Neutral Milk Hotel.

When Elf Power first broke out on the indie scene with their third album, 1999’s fuzzy and wistful A Dream In Sound, the band’s music was hailed as magnificent, evolutionary pop. The band hasn’t seen much of the limelight since, but, with Creatures and a nationwide tour that hits Chicago’s Abbey Pub on May 24, Elf Power could once again garner some notice in an season of indie dearth.

Creatures is an album full of short and sweet ditties suited for car-stereo play while zipping from one friend’s house to the next. Tracks like the opening “Let The Serpent Sleep” feature lyrics like the concise yet nonsensical, “The worm will eat the peach / There’s pebbles on the beach / The swine is in the mud / The eagle flies above.” Lyrics like these aren’t the silly musings of simplification gone wrong but rather are the peculiar brand of fairy tale indie-rock inspired by lead singer and songwriter Andrew Rieger’s love of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Thanks to these influences, songs like “Visions of the Sea” and “The Creature” have a whimsical, fantastical nature. But the consistently solid mix of psychedelic pop balances the morbid and downright weird lyrics found throughout the album.

Elf Power’s new release doesn’t just copy their tried-and-true formula of combining swirling experimental sounds and plaintive acoustic runs.

“Everlasting Scream” shows itself to be the most creative song on the album, simultaneously evoking the experimental elements of Elephant Six cohorts the Olivia Tremor Control and the user-friendly pop-finesse of The Apples In Stereo’s most acclaimed album, Tone Soul Evolution. The result is a unique and catchy folk-rock highlight that adds to the many diverse sounds and styles found on Creatures.

While less lovably lo-fi than predecessors like Neutral Milk Hotel, Elf Power successfully returns to its slow melodic roots in lullabies like “The Modern Mind.” The album traipses from simple synthesizer-guitar couplings reminiscent of Reggie And The Full Effect in “Things That Should Not Be” to a softening violin in “The Creatures II” that invokes the more solemn sounds of the Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs.

With fierce variety in just 11 songs, Creatures teases the listener into liking strange-yet-pleasing sounds only to hear them fade away three short minutes later. Although their name may only be good for a quick giggle, Elf Power’s latest happy-music/sad-lyrics hybrid deserves a confused but satisfied shrug. nyou