Saturday, February 11, 2012

CD Review: Elephant Micah “Louder Than Thou”

Elephant Micah

Louder Than Thou

Louder Than Thou is the latest album from the underground folk mad scientist, Elephant Micah who is known as Joseph O’Connell at family reunions. O’Connell’s day job is as a folklorist, helping document grassroots music communities. That cataloging of folk and roots music seeps into his own songs to produce tunes that are at once familiar folk tunes, yet somehow morph into something else much as the jazz of Charlie Parker morphed into avant-jazz in the hands of Ornette Coleman.

Let’s call it avant-roots. First, O’Connell is an amazingly talented song writer with a more than passable voice. His sense of harmony, and his voice itself would have fit wonderfully into, say, The Eagles. But the traditional instrumentation of acoustic guitars, lap dulcimers, gentle use of drums and percussion which fit nicely into that ‘70s singer song writer mode, are joined by electronic noise, sound effects, textural play and ensemble improvisation. It may sound weird in words, but believe me, it works in sound in wonderful ways.

Elephant Micah “If I Were A Surfer”

WIRE magazine said this: “A beautiful slice of narcoleptic folk that captures the lugubrious nothing-to-do feel of late summer days as well as the slow motion dance of dust in a ray of sunlight.”

And NPR Music/WNYC’s Spinning On Air: “Elephant Micah makes songs and tosses them, like messages in bottles, into the vast figurative oceans surrounding Indiana. Joe O'Connell has been performing and recording as Elephant Micah for 10 years, creating songs gracefully poised between the poetic and the plainspoken.”

A number of the tunes are almost trance like in the slow beat and delivery. It makes for a very effective delivery of the lyric. Contrary to the title, the music isn’t loud in the traditional sense. It’s the imagery, the story itself that is loud.

Elephant Micah2

Louder Than Thou is a low-fi, minimalist, revelatory work, and a haunting take on American folk music. What’s more amazing is he has been doing this for some ten years now alongside other masters of post-roots mood music such as Califone and Sun Kil Moon yet, he remains mostly a well kept secret.

The record follows an already extensive catalogue of limited, home-produced, and otherwise difficult-to-find recordings, which have circulated far and wide among a small yet dedicated fan base. This music’s cult also includes peer musicians like Magnolia Electric Co., Dark Dark Dark, and Breathe Owl Breathe, who have toured with, accompanied, or covered the songs of Elephant Micah. Follow the link above to further explore his sound.


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