Athens’ musical mainstays Vic Chesnutt and Elephant 6 originals Elf Power will hit the road this fall in support of their collaborative release, Dark Developments on Orange Twin Records. In addition to performing songs together from Dark Developments, Elf Power will open each night playing tunes from its most recent release In A Cave released earlier this year by Rykodisc.
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 this. 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.
Vic Chesnutt and Elf Power Live:
10/29 Oxford, MS Proud Larry’s
10/30 New Orleans, LA One Eyed Jack’s
11/01 Dallas, TX Club Dada
11/02 Denton, TX Rubber Gloves
11/03 Austin, TX The Parish
11/05 Santa Fe, NM Santa Fe Brewing Company
11/07 Tucson, AZ Club Congress
11/08 Phoenix, AZ Modified
11/09 San Diego, CA Casbah
11/10 Los Angeles, CA Echoplex
11/11 San Francisco, CA Bottom of the Hill
11/12 Sacramento, CA Blue Lamp
11/13 Eugene, OR Sam Bond’s Garage
11/16 Seattle, WA Chop Suey
11/17 Boise, ID Neurolux
11/18 Salt Lake City, UT Kilby Court
11/19 Denver, CO Hi Dive
11/21 Lawrence, KS Jackpot Saloon
Vic Chesnutt, Elf Power, and The Amorphous Strums
Dark Developments Track Listing:
Release Date: October 28th, 2008
02. Little Fucker
03. And How
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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