Josh Elkes is 21 years old and he's managed to write just about the most perfect alt-folk songs I've heard so far this year. At times it feels like Leonard Cohen without being boring. Please don't throw things at me. Through serendipity or good timing, Elkes has managed to put together a truly all-star production team and group of session musicians. Every note of the four songs on his self-titled EPJosh Elkes is impeccably played. You can tell that these people live and breathe music. Through the hand of Grammy winning producer, Neils Dorfsman, who has worked with the likes of Bjork and Bruce Springsteen, the songs see their full potential as recorded pieces of music. And then there's the songs themselves.
"He Don't Feel Welcome" tells the story of a young man suddenly finding himself in a relationship that is falling apart around him and not sure how he got to that place. The melancholy themes sit well with a musical tone that is rather more upbeat than a song this sad would normally be, but that's exactly why it works. It tells the story of a man figuring out what he can do about the situation he is in rather than moping around and trying to make people cry. Featuring a beautiful vocal harmony from a singer named Allegra Carter, "Laid Down In Bows" is about unrequited love and watching the person that you love choose the comfort of the familiar over the possibility of the love that they deserve. And all of that because "you've tied your mind to heart" and are refusing to let your heart seek what it wants.
"Make It On My Own" is the musical outlier of the EP, featuring an electronic drum beat that helps to keep the listening experience from being monotonous. The lyrics feel like a fever dream where your mind is trying to make sense of crippling fear with lines like "The harvest moon will set fire to my room" and "Being in a place where you don't belong feels like fighting a war for peace.” The EP closes with "Some People Change,” a bluegrassy take on the classic 12-barre blues form of repeated lines and misplaced optimism. The song is the story of someone that's seen too much but not quite enough to avoid being smug about it. This is helped along by the music, which is full of swagger and culminates in a jam that wouldn't be out of place in an Appalachian hoedown. The only real critique that I have of this project is that of Elkes' voice. He's got massive potential as a singer, but he needs a bit more experience to gain full control of his voice. Right now, it feels a bit forced, like he's trying too hard to sound expressive. But these things come with time. There is so much strength in the songs, though that it's easy to get lost in the music and just enjoy what it is that you're listening to.
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