An absolutely wonderful album in danger of being overlooked, Elephonic brings together the best qualities of The Byrds and John Lennon without sounding explicitly like either. (Elephonic is from Milwaukee.) “Why Can’t You Listen” has a nostalgic air but a timeless production style; with one foot in the past and another in the present day, it’s an example of the qualities that make pop an enduring art form. The song’s lovely middle eight is filled with lovely string work, but the subtle rocking that forms the song’s core remains intact. Cello and violin are seamlessly integrated into the arrangement, not merely grafted on and/or overdubbed.
“Wonderin’” has a breezy, melancholy air that – once again – feels like but does not sound like another artist: this time, the Beach Boys with hints of George Harrison. Songwriter-guitarist Mike Jarvis demonstrates a deep knowledge of the qualities that make a song memorable. “Until the Sound” has a thundering piano figure at its core; it’s redolent of Del Shannon, or what Shannon might have sounded like had he (as was reportedly considered) joined the Traveling Wilburys. But the song moves more, rocks harder than the Wilburys ever did; in that respect it’s closer to Tom Petty.
As its title suggests, “Durango Sound” evokes thoughts of spaghetti westerns. Wonderfully resonant fiddles and twelve-string guitars conjure a vibe equal parts Roy Orbison and Herb Alpert. A delight. And enthusiastically strummed acoustic guitars give “Rapid Transit” a character that calls to mind Midnight Oil, with harmonies by way of Peter and Gordon. Guest player Jim Schwarz provides some note-perfect harmonica.
On “Iris,” Jarvis affects a vocal character reminiscent of Michael Quercio (The Three O’Clock), and it suits the tune perfectly. “Freedom Bells” has a chiming Jackie DeShannon-meets-Crowded House feel. “Healthy Acres” is another sturdy pop tune with a spirit-lifting arrangement. The album’s longest cut at six-plus minutes, it makes the most of extended instrumental breaks. And telegraphing some of the group’s influences – as if keen listeners might not have spotted them already – the pointedly-titled “Memphis UK” ranks among the best tracks on the set.
Elephonic is hereby shortlisted for my Best of 2023 list. Check back in late December.