|some comments about |
Hold Tight the Ropes
Your Flesh, November 2003:
NYC pop trio Elk City breathe life into the barren corpse of indie rock by tempering their well-written rock songs with odd bits of psychedelia and roots rock on their second album (and first full-length for Touch & Go).
Bassist/singer Renee LoBue sounds like a cross between a tuneful Moe Tucker and a Dramamine-spiked Debbie Harry, providing an oddly fitting counterpoint to Peter Langland-Hassan's exhausted groan, like a DC Berman on an especially lazy day. Like their contemporaries in the undervalued Mendoza Line, however, Elk City's strength is in their writing, which combines an obvious love of American pop music with insightful lyrics and the occasional detour into weirdness.
The gorgeous "Once And For All" is mournful in new ways, while "Don't Fight What You've Become" is an uppity number that lyrically namechecks Los Angeles punkers X over a vintage Heartbreakers (Petty's, not Thunder's) tune. Drastic experiments, such as the one on "Rosemary," during which everything but the lead vocals cackle and disintegrate in what sounds like a massive digital error, or the willfully lo-fi "Football" on which the Beatles break and tossed-off falsetto during the middle section borders on parody, show a willingness to test the listener. Most of the songs are sung as duets, a device that never really loses its appeal throughout the album's duration.
Incidentally, I reviewed this record a week ago and still haven't seen my way to filing it away as of yet, despite a growing pile of other CDs to attend to. Hold Tight The Ropes has more or less snuck its way into my regular rotation, merely by virtue of its quality and charm. This, like, never happens, man. Nice job. (Touch & Go) - James Jackson Toth
The Big Takeover, January 2004:
Elk City is one of those bands that keeps flying underneath my radar, yet everytime I listen to them I find something I really like. This CD is no exception and I like the way they seem to be rocking out a little more. There's that rough New York edge to the vocals at times, but it's quickly cut with a melodic falsetto, perhaps like The Strokes on speed. Meanwhile the guitars and thick background flow make me think of some strange Flaming Lips/Pink Floyd attack. Then the mood switches to some alt-country vibe, like The Geraldine Fibbers but so much smoother, mellower and closer to the shadows. - Marcel Feldmar
Pop Matters, Oct 2002:
Q: What would happen if you took Television, forced Richard Lloyd to play keyboards, and gave Fred Smith a Fender Rhodes Piano Bass (and turned him into a woman with a dramatic, strident singing voice)?
A #1: Lloyd would be bummed, Smith would be confused.
A #2: They'd be a band called Elk City, and they'd put out a fantastic record called Hold Tight the Ropes.
Okay, okay, so Elk City doesn't really sound all that much like Television, but the above comparison is as good as any to get a handle on the great music that this beguiling NYC trio create. Based on the vocal dueling between guitarist Peter Langland-Hassan and bassist (er . . . Fender Rhodes Piano Bassist, rather) Renee LoBue, the band creates dynamic, dramatic, classic-sounding songs that are filled with tension and release.
With Hold Tight the Ropes, the band has kept the threads of their early work intact, but has also managed to expand on and further hone their extremely distinctive sound. While last year's The Sea is Fierce EP featured many dynamic shifts, both from song to song and within individual songs, Hold Tight the Ropes sees the band pushing forward with an admirable singularity of purpose: to simply write excellent, unique songs that go for the throat as often as they caress you gently to sleep.
Most songs on the record feature duets between Langland-Hassan and LoBue -- i.e. he takes a verse, she takes a verse, they harmonize on the chorus. While this is a fairly tried-and-true formula, the juxtaposition between their voices, in this case, is what is truly special. Langland-Hassan, with his dry, midwestern crackle of a voice, evokes the aforementioned Tom Verlaine, as well as, say, Freedy Johnston (albeit with more bite). Lo Bue, on the other hand, is a firebrand -- when she sings lower notes, she's earthy and sexy, and when she stretches out and puts a bit more kick into her delivery, she's as strident and convincing as any punk rocker you'd care to name. In this respect, Lo Bue bears a resemblance to a less punk version of Kaia Wilson of the Butchies -- soft and gentle one minute, and raising the hairs on your neck the next.
The song "Don't Fight what You've Become (Sammy's Song)" is a prime example of both LoBue's gifts as a singer, and the band's dynamic skills. She starts her first verse all breathy and sensual, but by the time the chorus hits, she's in full flight, hollering "No, don't fight what you've become" in such a way that you know she means it. Meanwhile, as Lo Bue sings "Congratulate / It's almost time to graduate", the band kicks into full gear, roiling organs, jangling guitars and thudding drums carrying the song to its conclusion.
Elk City is nothing if not a versatile band, evoking images as varied as the twangier side of Neil Young, on the Lo Bue-led "Once and For All", quirky Americana-inflected indie rock on "Football" and "K-Mart", and gleeful poppy rock in "Summer Song". Throughout it all, the band's constant use of organs and other vintage keyboard sounds contribute to a thick, heady sound that's at once distinctive and instantly memorable. Langland-Hassan's stinging guitar leads provide the requisite ragged rock edge, evoking such noted string manglers as the (both above-mentioned) Neil Young and Tom Verlaine. Add to this already intoxicating brew the strident sounds of Lo Bue's and Langland-Hassan's voices, and you've got a quirky, highly addictive sound that Elk City can truly claim as their own.
While Elk City are probably just a tad too quirky to emerge as the next indie rock sensation, they have certainly succeeded in carving out their own particular niche. It's equally dark and mysterious as it is warm and inviting, and not only is it worth an initial investigation, it 's also one that's worth revisiting time and time again. --Jeremy Schneyer
Magnet, Oct/Nov 2002:
In fiction writing, the creation of cardboard characters has proven a fatal flaw to many a budding novelist: bands come up with one-dimensional, dead-end sounds all the time. With one foot in the free-spirited expression of the early-70s electric-folk scene and the other planted in the sound of late-80s college rock, Brooklyn trio Elk City rises above the snares of mediocrity on "Hold Tight the Ropes." The vocal interplay of guitarist Peter Langland-Hassan and keyboardist Renee LoBue allows a multitude of perspectives: at times they'll trade stanzas to tell a story, communicating with each other as though exchanging written correspondence. Langland-Hassan Gordan Gano-ish voice finds a safety net in LoBue, who croons with the class and command of a veteran lounge singer. Relying on the sturdy foundation of drummer Ray Ketchem (Mendoza Line), the instrumentation capably meets the challenging task of supporting the assorted vocal deliveries. "Ropes" varies from easy going, backset melodies and dreamy keyboard textures to punchy rhythms fueled by occasional injections of Langland-Hassan's fuzzed-up guitar. "Kmart" is the Cocteau Twins backed by Crazy Horse, "Summer Song" has Langland-Hassan singing like Tom Petty over LoBue's E-Street Band Fender Rhodes. By tuning its weird radio dial into both classic and indie rock, Elk City opens a wide door that pleasantly connects the past to the future. --Michael Hopkins
Ink 19, July 2002:
A grand surprise, this, the second full-length album from perfect pop/rockers Elk City. Having carved out a small room all of their own, this one sees them expanding their space, and in the process, inviting the listener into their world with wide-open arms. One could at times mistake them for a warmer-sounding up-and-about "straight" rock band, but their scope is so much broader than that would imply, and their base in folk and country is too much in evidence to allow for such a lazy categorization.
One thing is the Rainer Maria-emo of kick-off track "Indiana." But listen, for instance, to the stunning "Once and for All," that sees them bringing Dylan and Radiohead together - an unlikely combination for sure, but the result is close to genius. Or how about "Smile," which is reminiscent of both Leonard Cohen and American Music Club, while remaining something that's completely their own thing. And then the funky "Football" is something completely different again, as is the hushed, lovely "Athens Botanical," and the E-Street rush of "Summer Song." And so on. Improbable, impossible, but here it is. May be the best rock album of the year. So. --Stein Haukland
The Village Voice, June 18, 2002:
"Elk City's a great little trio of dark and dreamy rock'n'roll that brings to mind a more contemporary take on Concrete Blonde, a countrified version of the Church--or even a melancholic Tom Petty with fangs. Great songs, great vocals, and clever instrumentation that pipes in lots of atmospherics straight from Loveless dreamland." --Bosler
Entertainment Weekly, July, 7 2002:
Catchier than the Cowboy Junkies, messier than Mazzy Star (both of whom they recall), this Brooklyn, N.Y., trio specializes in an affecting strain of dreamy indie pop topped with rootsy influences. The vocal interplay between multi-instrumentalists Renee LoBue and Peter Langland-Hassan is a special treat, as are evocative, heartbroken tunes like "Once and for All." --Tom Sinclair
The All Music Guide, June 2002:
**** (4 stars)
"On their second full-length release, Elk City further refines their blend of psychedelia, folk-rock, and indie rock. Presenting a caustic and vulnerable beauty, guitarist Peter Langland-Hassan and bassist (actually a Fender-Rhodes piano bass) Renee LoBue create strangely intense dark dialogues over a hazy din of ominous sounds.
A study in combining slightly contrary elements, LoBue's sighing vocals and Langland-Hassan's almost taunting, Stephen Malkmus-esque delivery create an odd tension between the apparent resignation and defiance found in the moods displayed. With lean, muscular guitars becoming quite reminiscent of Neil Young's late-'70s work with Crazy Horse, they manage to shovel several layers of dissonance over the vocals, rendering them fairly indecipherable but not keeping the underlying moods from fully emerging.
The rather no-frills approach generally suits them very well, and the burned-out balladry of tracks like "Crimson" and the three-chord catchiness of "Summer Song" provide particularly affecting moments... Elk City are masters at taking the commonplace and creating something vaguely familiar and inviting but deceptively enduring all the same." --Matt Fink
Swizzle-Stick, July 22, 2002:
Elk City plays Americana-style music with jazzy underpinings that make them popular in countries like France and Spain. Yeah, I don't really know what that means either, but it's not a bad attempt at describing a band that seems determined to avoid any pigeonhole.
For example, just as I find myself relaxing to the light brush work by drummer Ray Ketchem I am pleasantly jolted by the crash and feedback of "Rosemary." "K-Mart" rocks a bit like Elf Power, driven by organ chords. "Don't Fight What You've Become (Sammy's Song)" rolls in such a way, and includes enough falsetto singing, to draw comparisons to early Grant Lee Buffalo. And the same could be said of "Football" which includes a wild-west saloon piano break. So, while the record avoids easy classification, what is apparent is that only truly accomplished musicians could cover this much ground. And that there haven't been many records yet this year that I have enjoyed listening to again and again in an effort to better understand it. --James Baumann
In Music We Trust, July 2002:
Swirling, buzzing indie rock, slumbering pop songs, sweeping melodies, and a general sense of feeling relaxed, yet focused enough to hook the listener, Elk City's timid, reserved songs are just what you need for a casual day in summer. One minute you get caught up in the dark, gentle folk of a song like "Smile", trading off between male and female vocals, giving you the perfect contrast between night and day. And the next minute you're rocking out to the richly melodic, quirky pop of "Football", or the lo-fi psychedelic "K-mart". The tone of the album represents the difference between these three songs, as you get something different track to track, but something that is also distinctly Elk City, whether it's the male/female vocal contrasts, the vibe, or the timid-ness that pulls them together. I'll give this an A-.