Elliott – False Cathedrals

False Cathedrals

After Elliott’s last full-length, U.S. Songs, showed up on many people’s best-of-the-year lists and really managed to define a very well-planned off-shoot of the whole emo sound, people have been anxiously awaiting the band’s next release. Unfortunately, the label’s press info says it all: the album “all but abandons Elliott’s post-hardcore roots…a sophisticated, elegant rock album of epic proportions.” What they don’t say is that False Cathedrals screams in all out capital letters: MAJOR LABEL!
That’s right, this feels exactly like a band releasing their requisite rock album that will get them signed to a major label contract. That being said, it’s really not bad. After Revelation’s surprisingly un-punk rock release that featured Gameface and Errortype:11, Elliott still seems to fit on the label. Like those two bands, Elliott doesn’t claim to be writing anything other than well-thought-out rock songs. But these songs are very lofty and often quite beautiful. There is a soaring quality to Chris Higdon’s voice that is downright beautiful and still very emotional. There are enough hooks here and strong guitar and bass lines to keep indie rock fans interested, and the production is fairly perfect. That being said, some of these songs are quite obviously written to be radio friendly.
They start off with “Voices,” which reminds me of some of the recent Sunny Day Real Estate songs, lead by soft piano and a throbbing bass line, and it flows right into “Calm Americans,” probably the track most consistent with U.S. Songs. Higdon’s voice soars here, and the use of piano is just downright beautiful. “Calvary Song” is another one that harkens back to the more powerful U.S. Songs, with some blaring guitar contrasting to the quieter, more subtle verses, and “Dying Midwestern” has a dark, bass-heavy moodiness that fits the title well. “Superstitions in Travel” has a very emo feel, driven by Elliott’s amazing or at least well-produced bassist. And “Lie Close,” with its driving guitars layered over a more melodic guitar has a very nice, loud and powerful feel.
Some of these songs get too mired in their own typical rock structure. “Blessed By Your Own Ghost” is only saved by Higdon’s amazing voice from being a Creed ballad. And “Drive On To Me,” despite it’s light, infectious quality, so reminds me of late 80’s rock songs – not hair rock, but more of a mainstream, Tom Petty and Aerosmith style of rock. And don’t get me started on the boring, unspired tracks like “Lipstick Stigmata” (what’s with that name?) and the slow and plodding “Shallow Like Your Breath.” And the closer, “Speed of Film,” sounds way too much like an Arena-rock grunge band wanna be track, uninspired and tame.
So this review is mixed. While I’m not an indie snob (major label bands can make good music too), I’m turned off by how obviously this band is trying to sound radio friendly and appeal to the majors. They pushed aside the emotion and power of their previous release to create a very lofty, epic-sounding rock album. It’s not a bad rock album. Many of these songs are downright beautiful and still powerful, but others reek of complacency. It’s not what I expected from Elliott, and I’m a bit disappointed, but these guys do have the ability to create some very moving rock songs.