Album Appreciation: Distances by Elkhorn

I (first came across Elkhorn through the New York duo’s 2017 album ‘The Black River’, and ever since then have been very taken with their laid back hazy folk approach to their music… akin somewhat to being gently caressed with peyote tipped leaves in front of a roaring fire in a remote log cabin.

This has broadly continued with subsequent releases, of which particular favourites have included: ‘Sun Cycle’/ ‘Elk Jam’ (2019) and ‘The Storm Sessions’/ ‘Acoustic Strom Sessions’ (2020)… however, ‘Distances’ feels like a significant step forward to me.. Drew Gardner (Electric Guitar) and Jesse Sheppard (acoustic guitar) have frequently worked with other musicians on their previous releases, and here they have brought in a couple of drummers, Ian McColm & Nate Scheible,  to work with them. The result is at times something a little bit more removed from the spare minimal sounds that I certainly most remember them for… although far from exclusively…

Photo: Brennan Cavanaugh

What we have here, then, is a set which those who enjoy previous Elkhorn releases with undoubtedly dig… but perhaps broadening out their appeal to those whose preference is for something a little on the rockier side… the overall result seems to be an album which is as deep and psychedelic, just in a slightly different way..

Starting off with ‘Train’ we get underway with a slow acoustic build up… almost an establishment of momentum in which we all get ourselves attuned before the band all click in and head off on a bluesy/ rock journey which takes us from one level to the next until we seem to reach a plateau… it’s a cool accompaniment to any sort of travel… but connecting it to the song’s title gives us a nice way to imagine where we might be… most of all though the playing is as superb as you would expect…

…something that is, of course, also the case with ‘Wilderness’… in some sense I’m still on the train imagining the open vistas of the desert float past me… revealed by that typical Elkhorn intertwining of acoustic and electric guitar sounds… here regulated and bolstered by the drums which give the whole thing a certain heft. This is a denser Elkhorn than I’m used to… but it’s very effective and I am enjoying the change… and am certainly felling myself getting drawn into this world as the repetition becomes mesmerising.

After that ‘1919’ starts in a quieter and more open manner… a track that’s longer than the previous two put together, this has more time to stretch itself out. This gives me time to reflect that, while the music may be more intense (relatively at least) it still feels like something you stroll along with… even during the quite unexpected, but not unwelcome, drum solo which gave me the feeling of having a private audience with the band as they performed in front of me… and I really like the underwhelming (in a good way) manner in which that Gardner and Sheppard came back in after it… not with any great fanfare… but just being themselves. After this section the tempo does pick up and you find yourself listening to a cracking folk/ rock jam which I find very uplifting…

The final two tracks, ‘Distances Parts 1 and 2’, make up what I assume is the second side of the vinyl version (on Feeding Tube Records) and begins in a manner more reminiscent of previous Elkhorn releases with the interaction between the two guitars dominating and only a minimal fill of the spaces in between with percussion. However, even though there is less it really digs into you and has fully got hold as they start to loosen out and begin to really build up momentum before dropping back about halfway through the twelve minutes of Part One… in fact it’s almost as if this is split into two parts itself… either way there’s a lovely ebb and flow to the music and I am really enjoying visualising what this would be like live and find myself totally zoned out with it… a vibe that’s pretty much carried over into Part. 2, thus completing a great set which is warm and welcoming… just inviting the listener into Elkhorn’s world for a bit… it was really nice just to hang out and let ourselves be for a while… what a pleasure!

‘Distances’ is out now on Feeding Tube Records



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