Bent by Elephants’ latest record, The Shore, is groovy and gorgeous. Their sound is dominated by a fusion of jazz and R&B, with a slight noisy indie rock flair mostly in the form of incredibly proficient guitar playing. The album’s opening track and namesake is a good example of this stylistic range. Especially impressive is the use of a percussive ticking noise at the end of the song that leads into the following track A Lonely Mile, prompting me to go back and figure out where one song ends and another begins. This was the first song to draw my attention to the album’s consistently awesome and poetic lyrics. Lead singer and guitar player Chesley Walsh’s subtle hush-like vocal delivery on the song forces the listener to pay close attention to her words, a tactic used multiple times throughout the record.
The album’s dreamy pace picks up on the next song, Disco Smile. It’s quickly picked opening guitar riff and percussive rim hits give it an anxious pace tempered by the calm, flowing vocals. Keenly aware of the tone set at the start of the track, the band resolves the anxiety by making Chesley’s calm voice the last thing you hear. Dark & Stormy adds a warm synth to band’s sound creating a cozy atmosphere despite the spastic drumming throughout. The guitar riff on this song also uses a quick picking technique that the band’s guitar players clearly excel at. I’m Night has a dark vibe cleverly alluded to in the title. The heavy drum hits and eerily distorted violin set this tone and the heavy use of falsetto adds a ghostly weirdness. The song’s crescendo at 3:43 adds a feeling of chaos to the well established creepiness. My favourite part of the song is the beautiful trombone that sounds something like an alarm to the approaching breakdown, and how it’s sustained note at the end becomes hoarse while the rest of the instruments disappear.
Better Your Friends is upbeat and light, a necessary relief from I’m Night’s dark sound. Bend The River Back is pretty and lyrically employs an interesting storytelling approach but doesn’t really offer anything special musically. Sideways makes further use of a quiet-then-loud dynamic, well-established at this point in the record, and interesting tempo shifts by inverting the typical slow to fast progression and starting fast then slowing down. The Hills opens as the most quiet and calm song on the album, giving the whole collection a nice sense of pace but as if unable to control themselves and desiring a strange sort of balance, it descends into what is easily the noisiest section of the album with a guitar tone that sounds like it could’ve been lifted from any number of Sonic Youth songs. The trombone and further use of percussive rim hits give the song a decidedly jazz sound. Sinking In wraps up the record with an upbeat tempo juxtaposed with a dark tone. At the song’s noisiest moments the artfully placed trombone sounds like a light in an otherwise dark tunnel.
On the whole, The Shore is riddled with tonal contradictions that are masterfully handled in a way that works to its advantage and somehow leaves the word ‘consistent’ on the tips of my fingers. Bent By Elephants has a clear artistic vision made up of tiny seemingly unconnected parts. The title of this album matched with their debut This Is Water is proof of that. The constant struggle between tension and relief makes The Shore, somewhat ironic given the title, a wild and wonderful ride.