‘Herd Songs’ is the debut EP from Elk, a band which formed from the ashes of math/jazz pioneers Andy, Glenn and Ritch. Released on the inspirational Sheffield DIY label, The Audacious Art Experiment (Nope, Cowtown, ZA!), these ten tracks of intricate, soulful post rock, are the result of a two year collaboration with producer Karl Sveinsson of (Queens Ark Audio).
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Which guitar rock recipe book are we reading ‘Herd Songs’ from? Straight from opener “Guernica”, this thing sounds nauseatingly versatile, matching spoken word treatises that recall Maps & Atlases playing new Ought songs with some of the most queasy emo riffage you ever did hear -- the stuff of Axis Of meeting American Football at a post-hardcore gig where only the melodic bits get performed. Oh, and it’s shit-hot on the math rock, too: “Lonely Sister” is the most fret-tapping sad song you ever did hear. So yeah: guitars, huh? What’s the deal with that?
Elk should, by all rights, be a lot cornier than they actually end up sounding. Because they have a pretty crystalline understanding of each rock lexicon they’re borrowing from, this record actually sounds warm and touching; the background synth of “Lonely Sister”, for instance, relaxes the listener into the frenetic and indecisive sounds the band are switching between. Their love of breathless narration is well done even if it doesn’t work on your mileage: on “Fife”, half the band sound rigid and the other half bounce off the walls, the bass growling, the vocal harmonies getting real gruff, as the chords run in place.
It’s the more forlorn Elk I’m drawn to, between “The Eloquent Elephant”, which extends the band a large space to stretch out their free-falling melodies in, and the morosely distorted “Roctopus”, whose instrumental work is like Rachel’s playing math rock band. There’s a lot to love in that unfashionable, tragic sound, and even if a couple of missteps towards the overbearing side of technical post-hardcore appear, ‘Herd Songs’ remains a kindly showing of sad math.
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