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Back to the Web

3.8 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Audio CD, April 25, 2006
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

On April 24th, Elf Power return with their Rykodisc debut, Back to the Web, a haunting, twisting journey weaving its way through heavy psychedelic haze, to soulful, melodic folk, to stomping T Rex-styled rock. Back to the Web is full of the band's signature, lovely pop melodies, but a distinct progression is evident in the songwriting and the lush, full production. The folkier tunes are laced with strings and the heavier ones scream psychedelia; influences of Bob Dylan and Wall-era Pink Floyd can be detected. Singer/songwriter Andrew Rieger comments, "I was listening to a lot of middle eastern folk and gypsy music when I started writing these songs and I tried to emulate some of those sounds by combining 12 string acoustic guitar with violin and accordion. Our last album was more of a straight ahead rock record, so in reaction this one came out as more of a dark, orchestrated folk rock album." Formed in Athens, GA in 1994, Elf Power was spawned from the legendary Elephant 6 collective that also produced Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel, Of Montreal and Apples In Stereo. The band has spent the past twelve years making albums and touring the globe, sharing bills with the likes of R.E.M., Dinosaur Jr., Wilco and Guided By Voices.

Since 1994, this Athens, GA-based act have been one of the most misunderstood rock bands in the U.S. Far more straight-ahead musically while lyrically interested in singing about gnomes and wizards (unironically), they didn't necessarily fit in so well with their more out-there Elephant Six contemporaries. And while they definitely had a strong taste for fuzzy pop recorded on the fly and inexpensively, they really were never much of a lo-fi band, either. On their eighth album, while the rest of the indie scene can't get enough of long-haired troubadours with mystical leanings, Elf Power deliver a crisply recorded and vaguely medieval set of songs with nary a Tolkeinist element in sight. Vocalist Andrew Reiger's songs have never been this folksy and ruminative. It might take a few listens before the full weight of this album kicks in, but it's worth your time as this just might be their most rewarding album. --Mike McGonigal
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (April 25, 2006)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Rykodisc
  • ASIN: B000EMSU24
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #334,962 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
Three ghosts haunt Elf Power's "Back to the Web."

The first is the ghost of sixties exotic psychedelia. It conjures up that time when the gods inspired heroic mortals to make epic journeys to the east. These heroes brought back with them unfamiliar tunings, new instruments, and complex polyrhythms and time signatures. George led the Beatles to India ("Within You and Without You"). Led Zeppelin traveled to Morocco ("Immigrant Song," "Tangerine"). The Rolling Stones recorded "Paint It Black." They inspired everyone from Donovan to the Hollies. This ghost gives "Back to the Web" its edge.

The second is ghost of Pet Sounds Brian Wilson--sweetness and sonic experimentation.

Over it all hovers the ghost of Elephant 6--the now-dead collective that made music like it was 1969 (only way, way cooler). Their music is easily categorized as lo-fi, Brian Wilson, experimental, psychedelic, sixties, ambient, folk, noise, singing-saw pop. If you don't know what I mean, pick up "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea" by Neutral Milk Hotel or "Black Foliage" by the Olivia Tremor Control.

Now that E6 is dead, who carries the Elephant 6 banner? After listening to "Back to the Web", I believe that Elf Power is the true heir. First, the line-up has enough first-tier E6ers to secure its bloodline. Second, with this CD, Elf Power has the depth, complexity, generosity, and experimentation that characterized the best of the Elephant 6 classics. This ain't no Bird-with-the-Candy-Bar-Head Elf Power (I loved that Elf Power too); this is a deeper, more durable Elf Power--and band with more to say.

Those three ghosts (exotic sixties psychedelia, Pet Sounds, and Elephant 6) explain most of the success of "Back to the Web," but not all of it.
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This takes a while to sink in, and against their whole discography it'd be more like 3.5 stars, but since the other two reviews (a five and a three) average to 4, I balance the norm! However, direct in its delivery and relative economy as it is, this is not their strongest album. Not until the final track does the earlier sound of EP return, the quasi-minstrel side with layered and exotic instrumentation. Honestly, the difficulty I think holds back EP from wider acclaim still has always been too much reliance on Andrew Riegen's lead vocals--on single songs they can be tolerated, but for me they tend to get whiny-sounding over the course of an album, even one as short as this at 35 minutes for a dozen songs. The songs seem to take their time despite their brevity, and there is depth lurking in the grooves; it's just that the offerings on BTTW feel more polished so as to appeal to a wider crowd of passers-by--as if window displays--whereas early albums were akin to the amateurish looking but adeptly assembled curios what you'd find tucked away dusty at the back of ye olde sonick shoppe.

I can't blame any veteran indie band for this. Yet I must point it out to those expecting a reprise of an Elephant 6 ambiance from a decade ago. This is simpler music. Here, the instruments seem more downplayed, not surprising to listeners of "Walking with the Beggar Boys," an album that showed them breaking their earlier mold in favor of more of an REM evocation--not an imitation...although on "Back to the Web," a couple of the catchiest tunes are soundalikes for that other band from Athens GA.
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Format: Audio CD
Elf Power is one of the bands that survived the collapse of the Elephant 6 collective, and still sticks to that wonderful, fuzzy psychedelic sound. "Back to the Web" is a bit of a departure for them, with a sort of dusty folky sound, but still quite pleasant in a low-key way.

"Lovely daughter/this was just where I wanted to be... nothing spoken/just the sound of the rain on the sea/come lie down with me/and sing my song," Andrew Rieger murmurs, over a Renaissance-faire folk tune. It's a drowsy, pastoral little song, and while it's not psychedelic or very fuzzy, it is enchanting.

They continue in that vein, although they add more of a fuzz sound in some of the songs. There's swirling indie-rock, haunting ballads with a ghostly sound, catchy acoustic pop, and shimmering little pop tunes that harken back to their best psychedelica. Not to mention a really jarring banjo interlude.

The whole album is sort of pleasant and relaxed, like lying on a grassy field during a sprinkling rain. While Elf Power seems to be taking some cues from REM and the college rock sound, they sound a lot more laid-back than most such bands. And no, they haven't totally abandoned fuzz-rock or sweet folk.

The music relies heavily on soft acoustic guitar, and buzzing basslines running under everything else. It's catchy, but not in a dancey way. And there's plenty of rippling keyboard and smooth, twining strings to keep the music from getting boring. The big weak spot is that bloody banjo. No matter how prettily you play it, a banjo is too sharp for this mellow music.

Rieger's smooth voice flows over the music, with a childlike quality that keeps the lyrics from seeming as twee as they could.
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