REVIEW: Horrible Crowes – Elsie

Artist: Horrible Crowes
Album: Elsie
Genre: Alternative
Label: Side One Dummy

First things first, I feel horribly ignorant as I was apparently the only one who didn’t realise this band was Brian Fallon’s side project. My general distaste for The Gaslight Anthem explains this, but even so, I now find myself in the awkward position of having to reassess my notes on the matter. If you want any indication as to how this differs from TGA, I can’t help you, cos I don’t listen to them. But I can say that as a standalone affair, it’s decent, a bit different, but not really worth marvelling at.

The atmospheric quirks throughout are the strongest aspect of this release. Fallon and his partners in this endeavour, Ian Perkins, excel in crafting rich, abrasive tones with which to frame their music and this gives it a far more prestigious character. “Last Rites” for instance is almost ambient, with a barely-there sound that’s all trembling percussion, faint piano, and hushed vocals. It’s a strong, if ambivalent opener, and creates a beautifully absorbing sound. “Sugar” takes a similar line. There’s an almost impossible air of tragedy in the sound, with a heavy bass line and mournful guitar strains accompanying the vocals. It’s very gradual, almost like background music, and what subtle strains of intent there are here and there are kept minimised. Fallon’s voice seems markedly dimmed, and there are a few extra elements as a kind of climax later in the song, but it seems more about adding layers of atmospheric detail than anything else.

The album, as a general rule, doesn’t have much momentum to it. This is presumably deliberate, with the band aiming to have listeners pause and take stock, losing themselves in the wealth of sound that the songs offer, though it does invariably mean it’s a little difficult to get worked up about (at least in my case). I can’t take issue with how well it’s put together or the dexterity of the sound, but it is just a tad too dull on occasion for my liking. “Behold the Hurricane” has a trace element of animation to it, but builds in the same low-key manner as the previous songs, using gentle and simple instruments to frame an ambling narrative. “I Witnessed a Crime” has a slightly jazzier air and a chirpier feel, integrating flashes of more active sentiment with a breezy backbone.

I’ve heard whispers (or full on declarations) regarding the Boss where Fallon’s concerned, but truth be told, the one reference that sprung to mind during “Cherry Blossoms” was Leonard Cohen. Maybe I’m reaching, but there was something about the husky singing and the beguiling sound that reminded me of the Canadian master. This song is a particularly vivid example of the album’s good points – a genuinely rich and compelling ambience houses beautiful swathes of sound lit by morose vocals. The floating pace gives the listener plenty of time to bathe in and appreciate its sound, and it fades out almost whisper-like. Moments like this contrast sharply with other efforts such as “Crush,” where the vocals are a little too discordant. They go up a notch (or four), and the sudden frenzy in his voice doesn’t sit well with how persistently laid-back the music is. There’s a vaguely religious sentiment in the lyrics and everything clamours together towards the end for a kind of happy realisation, but it’s not particularly good.

“Mary Ann” is better, with a more commanding sound and a bit more sass in its rhythm. “Black Betty and the Moon” maintains this livelier pace and sets a vivid acoustic guitar line to the vocals. The religious sentiments then come to a head in album conclusion “I Believe Jesus Brought Us Together,” which is ultra slow-burning but a rather fitting finale in this sense. There’s an almost hymnal effect to the music, which is very soft but tangible, and for all that it’s a bit too long it’s broad and absorbing enough to endear.

Elsie is an interesting and occasionally rewarding album. Its mood and atmosphere is lush throughout and there is clear artistry on show. It doesn’t really have enough to keep me interested past the first few listens, but if you’re in the market for thoughtful, intelligent fare it ought to take your fancy.

SCORE: 7/10
Review written by Grace Duffy

James Shotwell
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