Elephant is the musical vehicle of Dundalk (Ireland) based multi-instrumentalist Shane Clarke. The release 88 is sometimes dark yet it is a beautiful album that bends genres in many different directions. There is a clear propensity to 80’s synth pop in general but that’s really just the tip of the iceberg.
I first realized I was going to be in for something when listening to the first track “Summer.” The intimate, dark and fragile vocals felt somewhere between The Antlers and Xiu Xiu and is juxtaposed against just as fragile strings and piano. It’s when the synths enter the song that it really got my attention. The vast and cosmic sounding synths don’t conjure the typical saccharine sense of nostalgia that could have steered in the song in a predictable direction. The song gets alien and dark as if you are exploring the inside of a nightmare.
“On Bended Knee” is both romantic and kinetic. The groove is subdued and beautiful while the vocals on this song have more in common with an artist like Perfume Genius. There is some levity to be had on “Waiting Game” which is one of the more single worthy songs on the album. It has some aesthetic qualities similar to a band like Grizzly Bear. You could make a case “Living Alone” is one of the more cosmically uplifting songs on the album.
The ’80s synth action is in full effect on “Happy (feat. KT Ball)” which also implements ’80s style lead guitar. There is unequivocally a similar tone to The Chromatics with this song. “Lie Fallow” is a beautiful ballad while “Mirrors” is one of the more fiery and aggressive songs.
The very ethereal and atmospheric “Human” is undeniable as is the R&B infused “Waiting Game ptII”. Clarke isn’t done as “Stay With Me” is a beautiful slow burn that is heartfelt and tender. “Time Will Tell” has some of the most rocking moments you will hear. The album closes with the atmospheric ballad “All These Dragons.”
In the spirit of bands as wide ranging as M83 to Cut Copy and many other recent acts Clarke, like these artists, successfully conjures the correct sense of taste correlated with ’80s nostalgia to make this an album that works on many different levels. These songs have an obvious throwback to ’80s synth pop but this album also sounds uniquely modern which in my opinion is the most important factor in making it truly work so well. There is also something to be said about how the album plays from beginning to end. The dynamic and creative flow is apparent and diverse but never drastic and it truly makes the album feel cohesive. It is all these combined qualities which make this an exceptional album. Highly recommended.
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