There’s a disparity between how London duo Elephant got off the ground, and what they offer up on this debut album. Having met at a party, vocalist Amelia Rivas and studio tinkerer Christian Pinchbeck wrote and recorded during all-nighters, off their chops. Roughly four years and a tortuous recording process later, they deliver alluring analogue pop textures and nagging refrains, but sound like they’ve never ingested anything stronger than skimmed milk. There are nice moments - the whirring keys and booming ’60s soul drums that pepper ‘TV Dinner’, for instance – but there are bad ones too - ‘Shipwrecked’ drifts towards the vanilla dreampop of Beach House. Rivas’ voice isn’t enormously distinctive, either, meaning ‘Sky Swimming’ rarely eclipses the dreaded adjective ''pleasant''.
Skyscraper resonates with the momentous sense of melancholy intrinsic to Skeeter Davis’ seminal The End Of The World, while the relatively minimal Shipwrecked recalls Del Rey, were all that affected moaning and groaning ditched in favour of a glitzy sort of ginuwine glamour. It’s one that, given the successes of London Grammar and, to a lesser extent, Arthur Beatrice, Britain is slowly becoming renowned for, this sort of urbane pop a(n albeit unlikely) national pièce de résistance in recent times. But in also tapping into those more antique timbres known of their stateside contemporaries – Beach House, Tennis and so on – in Sky Swimming, Elephant serve up almost as many treats as there are tracks.
Rivas’ vocal, reminiscent of Ren Harvieu had the Salford songstress filled a little more of her inherent potential, is a thing of vintage resplendence and is layered most lavishly during Allured – another redolent of Born To Die’s indwelling melodrama. Although without some of the most audacious, and downright eminent productional nous going backing it up all the way through to the concluding Shapeshifter, Sky Swimming would be nothing. And so on paper, even when these songs may themselves be somewhat nothingy – as are Ants and Golden – so compelling is their composition, that they enthral almost as much as any other.
With its Hammond organ hum, opener Assembly drifts out into seaside reverie, if only for a moment, before it’s reeled back in by an ebullient bass line of which William Cashion would surely approve. “It’s like an eclipse – look too hard, my eyes burn up” Rivas soothes, and a passionate intensity palpably rages within this plush compositional masterpiece. TV Dinner, meanwhile, would perhaps take the ‘60s pastiche a step or two too far, were it not for such meek lyrics as, “I feel asleep with the TV on, with nothing but a smile on.” Maudlin? Nigh on ineffably so, but so long as you buy into Elephant’s kitsch charm, there should surely be a space in that broken and/ or warm heart of yours for this inspiriting pairing.
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