Elf Power – Creatures

Elf Power

Elf Power gets their share of slandering for their obsession with fantasy characters. But Andrew Rieger’s singing about goblins and monsters and other creatures is what I find so endearing about the band. This makes sense considering I used to play fantasy adventure games on the computer like Zork and The Legend of Kyrandia. Then computer games got pointlessly violent, which is when I retired from that world. Elf Power brings me back to those days. With each album, they have evolved their sound to sound more and more like the soundtrack of a fantasy-adventure computer game.
The band’s last album, The Winter is Coming, successfully combined digestible pop with sonic experimentation. Hearing the sawing of lumber really did take you to a fantasy setting. And here is why Creatures is a tad disappointing: the sonic experimentation found on Elf Power’s previous release is lacking. I would have hoped that Elf Power would have embraced the idea of creating the soundtrack to a fantasy world by using a more diverse sonic palette. Instead, Elf Power gives us another rocker á la When the Red King Comes. A strong one at that.
While Creatures may not have any extremely catchy standout songs like Elf Power’s previous three albums did (I’m not counting Vainly Clutching at Phantom Limbs), the album as a whole feels more cohesive. With A Dream in Sound, every odd-numbered track was brilliant, while the even-numbered ones left much to be desired. Creatures feels much less spotty.
The radio-friendly (I’ve heard it on the radio as well) “Let the Serpent Sleep” opens the album comfortably by running at medium pace with an organ by its side. The song is not necessarily innovative, but it works in the way that “Simon (The Bird with the Candy Bar Head)” did. The content and delivery of the lyrics feel cute in a beneficial way, “The man creates machines / The children run away / The night turns into day / So let the serpent sleep / O let the serpent sleep / We’re frozen underneath / So let the serpent sleep.” The follower, “Everlasting Scream,” is the hardest rocking song on Creatures, which sees both Rieger’s voice and guitars distorted. “The Creature” balances out the first two songs by serving as a beautiful pop song, with the slide guitar and engaging drumming serving as icing on the cake.
After a few straightforward pop tracks (“The Modern Mind” being especially wonderful), the rocker “Things that Should Not Be” kicks in. The song reminds us of the Elf Power that covered Brian Eno’s “Needles in the Camel’s Eye.” The guitars screech in the same fashion as they did on Here Come the Warm Jets. Those in search of a taste of Creatures need not look any further than here. The end of the album consists of more somber songs. The album closer “The Creature Part II” is so solemn and atmospheric that the band found it fitting to use hand drums.
Though Creatures is quite listenable, if not strong, I can imagine fans giving up on the band if they don’t try something different. I find Elf Power to be one of the stronger Elephant 6 bands, and most would agree that Elf Power can write pop/rock songs that listeners will eat right up. But I want to see them make a truly important studio album with fantastical sounds to match the imaginative lyrics. I’m talking about more than accordions and cellos. I want to be able to hear the sounds of demons as they “claw through the dark.” Elf Power can leave the rocking for the stage and make the overly dramatic, genre-defining album that The Winter is Coming hinted at. Such an album is long overdue.