Esteemed Alternative Indie band Elbow released their seventh studio album “Little Fictions” on February 3rd. The album is a follow up to the band’s 2015 EP “Lost Worker Bee”. The returning super heavy weight champion of the UK charts delivers a release full of uplift and empathy. The offerings on this outing provide an intimate look into lead singer Guy Garvey’s headspace. Elbow’s enduring success has lead to high expectations for each of their releases and “Little Fictions” does not disappoint. “Little Fictions’” beautiful sophistication hopefully portends a fantastic year to come in the Alternative Music world.
For those who need a catch up on the band, Elbow was founded in 1997 in Ramsbottom Bury, UK, by lead singer Guy Garvey and guitarist Mark Potter while both attended Bury College. The first incarnation of Elbow gigged under the band moniker Mr. Soft from 1990 till their name change to Elbow in 1997. The new band name was inspired by a line in the BBC drama “The Singing Detective” in which Detective Philip Marlowe described the word elbow as the loveliest in the English language. Mark’s brother Craig would eventually joined the band on keyboards taking over producer tasks on later albums. He along with Richard Jupp on drums and Pete Turner on bass rounded out the initial line up. It took six years to write the songs for Elbow’s 2001 debut Asleep in the Back. With the debut they garnered almost immediate critical and commercial success scoring a nomination and short listing for the Mercury Music Prize. The band never looked back, from the debut each album has reached the top 15 on British album charts and seven singles have placed on the top 40 British singles charts. The band has frequently graced the Mercury Music Prize nominee lists, and won the prize for the first time in 2008 with their release The Seldom Seen Kid. They have also snagged two Ivor Novello Awards for that album in the categories Main Award Best song and Best Contemporary song for Grounds for Divorce. They have also scored a number of Brit Awards nominations and wins.
Elbow returned to the studio in 2016 and continued with band member Craig Potter manning the sound boards as producer. In June of 2016 long time drummer Richard Jupp announced his departure from the band. The event was a surprise and had many in the music world wondered how it would affect the next Elbow release. In the past percussion had been one of the key elements of the band’s instantly recognizable sounds and with Jupp’s departure the question became how would Elbow’s sound adapt? The answer to that question is evident on Little Fictions as the band in no way shies away from percussion and it remains a key component of their sound. Drum and percussion duties were taken over by Alex Reeves on all but two tracks and a drum program arranged by Craig Potter was used for the other two tracks.
The album retains many of the musical motifs the band is known for and conveys a warmth and maturity that looks good on the band. The album is rife with a sense of repurpose and the reflected joy of Garvey’s recent marriage. The percussion resounds as much if not more throughout each track. The first track, Magnificent (She Says) is trademark Elbow maturing into something very breathtaking. The lovely reverb laden song is sophisticated and texturally alluring, equal parts sleek and evocative. Gentle Storm has some fantastic percussive effects and there is a stark pureness that displays a real mastery in the use of space between the instruments and the vocal. A “less is more” ethos is utilized creating the structure of the song that is simple but impressive. The selection reminds me of early Blue Nile work. Trust the Sun is yet another impressive track that is more akin to the songs on “The Seldom Seen Kid” but then turns into an exceptional piano ballad. It is a sunlit swirling love song where Garvey is channeling his inner Peter Gabriel to great effect while producing a brilliant free verse lyric for the song.
All Disco is best described as a classic Smiths track given a psychedelic treatment. A full throated Garvey vocal styling soars over a discordant mumbling back vocal. All the while Garvey mulls the question of what if anything matters; this is emphasized by the repeated lyric, “what does it prove if you die for a tune, don’t you know it is all disco.” It is an engaging song that changes up the mood from the first three tracks. Head for Supplies opens with an Edge like guitar reverb riff, the song is a bittersweet rumination. The contribution from the Halle Orchestra and Choir moves the track into something close to transcendence. Firebrand and Angel is a more up tempo track and less dreamy. The song used an interpolation from “Like a River” by Jim James. The song is a little slow off the mark but when it gets moving it totally pays off in the end. I really loved K2 with its jazz vibe and phenomenal keyboards that seem to float in mid air spiraling above the rest of the song; the percussion provides a very hip feeling and all the pieces fit together beautifully. The lyrics of “K2” are an insightful observation on Brexit and isolationism.
The track takes up the question of where the UK is right now and where it could find itself in the future. “K2” is probably my favorite track on the release. It is a real solidification of everything Elbow does best. Montparnasse takes its title from a Parisian West Bank neighborhood. The song is poignantly bittersweet as it tries to gain an understanding of relationship. It is presented as a montage of snapshots draw from moments in a affair. “Montparnasse” is a great lead into the title track Little Fictions. This dramatic track is filled with imaginative keyboards and thumping polyrhythmic beats utilizing a master sample of “We Free Kings” by Ginger Baker’s Air Force. The song overall harkens to the familiar structures of Elbow songs but weaves in great discordant strings that give the track fantastic impact. Garvey again brings across the vocal stylings of Peter Gabriel especially in his phrasing. The song builds and builds to a grandiose and panoramic vista that uses as its theme “Love is the original miracle.” The song is a “don’t miss track” on the release. The album finishes with The Kindling which sounds like it could have been recorded with the band around the campfire noodling around. That feeling is all but confirmed by the last seconds of the song capturing the members of the band commenting on the performance and what they think of it. The end snippet breaks the 4th wall and gives the song a very intimate feel.
Little Fictions showcases a band at the peak of their powers. The release is impressive and is instilled with warm humanity. Throughout the release there is the constant theme of Garvey and Co having experienced many of the listener’s same highs and lows in life. They perfectly balance the bittersweet melancholy of life with uplift and hope for a better tomorrow. They are in amongst life not observing it from afar. In an age where a lot of music is over processed and overly produced this album is insistent in inserting approachability into the works. It displays an undeniable human creative involvement rather than allowing the music to be credited to some sort of ghosts in the machine magic. “Little Fictions” even at its sleekest moments dispelled the artificial for the human element in its origination. In the end Little Fictions meets the high standards Elbow sets for their releases and is a worthy addition to their discography.