Elvis Depressedly New Alhambra
(Run for Cover Records – May 12, 2015)
(Alternative, Indie, Lo-Fi)
Review by Rob Bockman
Photo credit to Sam Ray
It’s been a banner year for Elvis Depressedly—recently signed to Boston’s Run for Cover Records, the duo of Mat Cothran and Delaney Mills have performed at SXSW 2015, relocated to our northern neighbor, and picked up national press. Likewise, it’s been a banner year for wrestling-influenced records, with New Alhambra packing a hell of a one-two punch with The Mountain Goats’ Beat the Champ. But where Champ was strident and celebratory, ripping off masks and crushing the pop, New Alhambra is more impressionistic, chopping and screwing old samples from wrestling matches, pitch-shifting and warping them until they match the drifting vibe of the album. It’s an album of impressions rather than victories, and all the more resonant for it.
There’s a bit of Avey Tare to the production—the watery vocals, the tidal susurrus of the synths—and a hint of millennial freak to Cothran’s vibe, voice and production pitched midway between Elephant 6 and Elliot Smith. The overall impression is one of coolness—both in the sense of hipness and of distance—underlined by the slightly chilly tone of Cothran’s voice and Delaney Mills’ understated harmonies. It’s a record of clear, delineated influences, but one that’s more interested in synthesizing new material than going over the old; it’s a record that asks the listener to meet it halfway at the least. Named for the outdated moniker of Philadelphia’s 2300 Arena (formerly ECW Arena), home of arena wrestling, New Alhambra uses the milieu as an influence rather than a setting, as another touchstone rather than a definition.
Kick-off track “thou shall not murder” is a bit aimless, and followed up by the low-key “n.m.s.s.,” it’s a slightly tough opening—but it’s one that informs the listener exactly what kind of journey is necessary to get to New Alhambra: somewhat solitary and meandering, but worth the visit. The sad-sack Casiotone for the Painfully Alone-esque “Rock N’ Roll” has a ragged kind of hollow bounce to it, crooning and lonely, that’s balanced well by foil “ease,” a pulsing cry for empathy. It’s a lonely record, but one that sees loneliness as a chance for future connection, rather than an excuse for hermitage, as in the yearning “wastes of time,” which transcends “simplicity” all the way to “elegant,” closing out the album on maybe its strongest note, a stripped-down and reflective two minutes with the chorus “If you try, I will try/If we fuck up, it’s alright/There is so much more to life/Than all this wasted time.” It’s a shrug of a philosophy, backed up with quiet acoustic guitar, and it nails down Cothran’s unique paradoxical style of alternating avidness and languor. Brief and beautiful, New Alhambra is immediately graspable but rewarding in slow draughts, opening up cautiously into something truly bold.
Tracks to Watch: “N.M.S.S.,” “Ease,” “New Heaven, Old Earth,” “Wastes of Time”
Tracks to Skip: “Bruises (amethyst),” “Big Break”
Setting: Slipping in and out of the water like you’re Benjamin Braddock.