Thursday, August 10, 2017

John Elderkin and ¡Moonbeams No Mas!

John Elderkin and ¡Moonbeams No Mas! 

In some important ways, The Fall and Rise of John Elderkin and ¡Moonbeams No Mas! is a musical narrative about inspiration. This seventeen song collection takes a lot of its cues from David Bowie’s seminal classic The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and, while it may not share its same commitment to gender bending theatrics, it does share many of the same narrative ambitions and clearly draws from Bowie’s album as a reference point. Elderkin, however, is an immensely talented songwriter who never finds himself bogged down risking imitation. The seventeen songs on this album, instead, represent how adeptly Elderkin has proven to be and taking an initial jumping off point of inspiration and expanding on it with a creative and musical vision all his own.
Few songs illustrate that better than the album’s first full length number “We Waited Five Years”. You’ll hear few songs capable of conjuring genuine gravitas with moments of unexpected, playful humor. Elderkin’s voice emerges from the mix with bell-like clarity and clearly has the capability of carrying a tune like this with warmth and personality. The golden oldie jump rockabilly flavor of the song “Messy Down Below” sounds like it was cut in a sweaty basement or garage and it’s certainly a major part of its appeal. Elderkin has the voice for this, as well, and throws himself into the performance with wild-eyed raucous glee. There are human voices creeping into art rock atmosphere surrounding “The Message”, but no lyrics or words per se. It is a brief number and has many of the qualities we’d otherwise associate with a spiritual chant augmented by tastefully deployed keyboard textures. There’s some electric guitar heard low in the mix on “Song for David Bowie”, but much of this tune devotes itself to a sprightly acoustic guitar arrangement punctuated by good drumming with a discernible and appealing swing.  
The acoustic guitar dominates “Keep It Down” as well, but there’s a dissonant edge cutting into the song’s second half quite different than anything we heard in the aforementioned song. Elderkin consistently makes keyboards work within the context of this music by using them the right now – they are rarely used in a musical “leadership” role and, instead, ably fill the gaps in Elderkin’s arrangements. The beautifully spartan piano of “You Got Sick” finds an equally simplified match in Elderkin’s lyrics. They are words that say more than they know and trying to uncover the song beneath the song, the story behind the story, is part of the immense fun listening to a song like this. “Fat Levon on Acid” is pure hilarity in comparison. The guttural, fuzzed out bass and primordial drumming jarringly contrast with the off the wall lyrics and imbues the song’s character with a discernible shape and mood. “Sore Afraid” comes late in the album and does such an effective job putting over its vulnerable demeanor that you will be immediately drawn closer to its delicacy. “Give Me Your Hands” is a wonderful finale for the album. It has some of the same zany humor that’s distinguished a number of the cuts, but there’s an equal deference to the album’s serious ambitions and a vital humanity coming through during every minute of this performance. John Elderkin and his band have aimed high with this release and it really can’t be heard as anything else but an unqualified success.  

Lance Wright

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