Sep 10, 2010

Elf Power. Treasures From the Trash Heap.

I quite often describe bands as being the equivalent of some hypothetical cross-breeding of their influences. It’s rarely true and can unfairly diminish the singularly unique elements they’ve created. So without discounting the fact that Elf Power really are something wholly more and better than the sum of their antecedents, I think it’s fairly possible to draw an accurate, if inverted, phylogenetic map of their sound.

Really, it’s only because of how secure they are in their own identity that they can be so successful when revisiting the songs of their heroes. It’s why Nothing’s Going to Happen1 is one of their best albums, and possibly the best representation of what they do, despite being made up entirely of covers. The Flaming Lips, Brian Eno, R.E.M., T. Rex, Wire, Sonic Youth, Jesus and Mary Chain, Roky Erickson, Robyn Hitchcock, The Buzzcocks, The Byrds, Hüsker Dü, and The Misfits all find some expression in Elf Power’s perfectly balanced mixture. Maybe it’s because their own songs—filtered and soaked in so many different elements—can function like a simultaneous mixtape that it’s so easy to like the band. They’re clueing you in to where they’ve come from and what they’ve loved along the way like your older sister sending you back all the cool bands she discovered in college.

This album was only available at their Back to the Web tour, and collects pretty much everything they’d done that never made it onto an album, or was only available as part of some other compilation you didn’t have. As an obsessive collector, I have to commend and thank them for really doing this type of album right. I want it all, and they’ve put it on here. Demos, more covers, a few live tracks, a remix, and a number of songs that just never saw the light of day. And they’re all really, really good. Historical Ant Wars rules. Back to the Web was a bit of a return to their old sound after a few albums that had found them stepping away from their early dive-bombing buzz, but Treasures From the Trash Heap is an even better encapsulation of the early days (although it covers every period). Like R.E.M.’s similar Dead Letter Office, it’s like getting to rummage around in your favorite band’s junk drawer. Without the pressure to create a coherent album, everything just reverts to being its own weird type of fun.

1. Temporary Arm (country version)
2. Face in the Sand (demo)
3. Feel a Whole Lot Better (Byrds cover)
4. Dandy in the Underworld (T.Rex cover)
5. Another Face (demo)
6. Hole in My Shoe (demo)
7. All the Same
8. Rise High Giant Fly
9. Historical Ant Wars
10. Empty Pictures (demo)
11. Princess Knows (Olivia Tremor Control cover)
12. Invisible Men (demo)
13. Dark Circles
14. Underneath the Bunker (R.E.M. cover)
15. Arrow Flies Close (live at Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto)
16. Blackbirds
17. Invisible Men (techno version)
18. Run Through the Forest
19. I Know I
20. Spiders
21. It's Not Cold
22. Reuters (Wire cover, live at Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto)
23. Honey (Spacemen 3 cover, live at the Landfill, Athens, GA)
24. The Slider (T.Rex cover)

1. Actually, A Dream In Sound and Creatures are the pinnacle of their work, but Nothing’s Going To Happen seems to hit right in the middle of what they’re usually aiming for.


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