Autogeography -- the ambitious full-length debut from Brooklyn-based indie-folk outfit GREAT ELK is not a concept album...but there is a common thread running throughout. It is a collection of rock songs about the idea of "home" -- the struggle to find one, and above all, the indelible connection between identity and place.
Lead singer Paul Basile has felt "home" in a number of places, not least of which is the Alaskan town of Bethel, where he lived for several years before returning to his native New York. In Alaska he worked as a sled dog handler, a commercial fisherman and a newspaper reporter, among other things. But all the while he was writing songs and eventually they seemed good enough to warrant a dramatic move to where more people would hear them. "It wasn't as romantic as it sounds," says Basile.
Maybe not, but by 2009 Paul and frequent collaborator Patrick Hay began work on a new EP and took the name GREAT ELK. They soon enlisted a rhythm section including drummer Adam Christgau (Brandon Flowers, Jenny Owen Youngs) and spent the next few months overdubbing with friend and engineer Bryan Trenis. By early 2010, bassist Tommy Harron (Pencilgrass, Measure) began performing with the band and Trenis joined in on keyboards. That Spring, GREAT ELK released their debut self-titled EP, garnering acclaim from PASTE,
Magnet, andThe Wall Street Journal.
In May 2011, they releases a second EP entitled February, the first recordings of the band with their current 5-piece lineup. Now, with two EPS and a growing reputation for their dynamic live shows, a solid groundwork had been set.
Retreating to Woodstock in June 2011, the band recorded at The Isokon with engineer/producer D. James Goodwin (The Bravery, Norah Jones). "Quite frankly, this is one of the greatest records I've worked on," says Goodwin. "Paul is a fantastic songwriter," he says, "but it's kind of serendipitous how these five guys came together to make these songs something even greater than what they were."
Autogeography has no shortage of infectious rockers, kicking off with the raucous "The Weight of the Sea." "Give Up" may best be described as a hook-packed dirge, lamenting a life stuck between the city and the country. There are a few slow burners as well, including, "Your Worst Nightmare", "Liquid", and "Big Black Sea", which ends in a 2-minute march to cacophony, then gives way to a barely breathing reed organ and delicate piano line. Tucked in the middle is "Oh, My Home, My Ohio", a live acoustic performance in which Basile sings of the intimate connection between person and land -- "I knew each rock and tree limb, knew each smell and sound. Land and body sewn together, silent and profound."
While GREAT ELK has already received their fair share of critical acclaim for previous EPs, their full-length debut Autogeography is guaranteed to illicit even more with its rousing lyrics and catchy songs. Innovative and downright likeable, the boys of Great Elk are sure to ignite a rabid fan base, securing the band's presence in the indie-rock world.