The idea of “home” and finding one’s place in life is a common topic in songwriting; whether literally, metaphorically, or emotionally, countless artists have written about the search for belonging. On their debut LP, Autogeography, folk newcomers Great Elk do an excellent job of exploring such musings. Their melodies, words, and sounds are unassuming yet profound, and the songs resonate with loss and a desire to find comfort.
Formed in 2009, the band currently consists of Paul Basile, Patrick Hay, Adam Christgau, Tommy Harron, and Bryan Trenis. The group’s previous two EPs, Great Elk and February, garnered plenty of critical acclaim and a devoted following. Of Autogeography, producer D. James Goodwin states that it’s one of the best albums he’s ever worked on, adding, “it’s kind of serendipitous how these five guys came together to make these songs something even greater than what they were.” Indeed, Autogeography is a poignant journey.
“The Weight of the Sea,” with its brass chanting and luscious production, is a boisterous opener that effectively builds excitement for the record. “Give Up” is an extremely catchy track about moving forward and elegizing your previous life, while “I’m Going to Bend” is a much more forlorn ballad. Elsewhere, “Liquid” recalls the affective urgency of the Goo Goo Dolls, and “Black Black Sea” features some truly beautiful yet subtle falsetto harmony. The slow waltz rhythm and subdued vocals on closer “Toil and Toil” allow Autogeography to end with bittersweet resolve. Throughout the record, Basile channels the emotionally fragile and poetic sensibilities of Gary Jules and David Gray, which really complements the rustic, sometimes bombastic music well.
Autogeography, as its name suggests, is all about finding yourself in the world and feeling welcomed in a new place. The band does a superb job of channeling these sentiments into touching glimpses of everyday life, and it’s a remarkably consistent and conceptually coherent record. For a debut full-length album, it’s quite impressive, and it shows how much potential Great Elk will display in the coming years.