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Ourselves The Elves – Geography Lessons (2015)

October 21, 2015 7:21 am by: Category: Albums Leave a comment

Geography Lessons

Let us begin by attempting to get the unpleasant business of “the reviewer bleeding into the review” completely out of the way. This (admittedly) talkative segment serves two simultaneous purposes: that of the disclaimer and an explanatory passage. I have stifled the urge to gush, opting to obscure the immensity of emotional swells that this EP conjures behind a series of fragments that correspond to each track. This was absolutely necessary to perform the task of critical engagement with Geography Lessons; if I had written this review limited by the conventional format, I would not be able to do the release any justice, for it would have been bogged down by the weight of writing that approaches the vicinity of cloying or diaristic. The format would have to yield to emotional swells and other tasteless ornamentations.

My personal voice is about to be buried beneath the critical lexicon of another. I have chosen to impose this particular stricture so as not to alienate any possible readers, and I think that I could not have written about the EP in any other manner. I have also chosen to extricate the EP from the film it was meant to accompany, looking at it as a work that operates for and in itself.

“Baby I Love You So”
Of course it must begin with a proclamation and a promise, and in the backdrop music that struggles against itself. The grand declarations that reside on the tip of the tongue are finally articulated (or realized), yet there still exists a tension: the shifts from major chords to minor chords destabliize the emotion; the tone oscillates from the territory of the wistful to the domain of relief to unabashed joy in under three minutes. The music seems to be second guessing itself, withdrawing the immense surge that seems to be set in motion, retreating back into itself, perhaps unsure of the status of its own arrival, and withholding its own resolution. And yet the song remains fierce in spite of its sparseness, its ambiguity, and its suspension. The declaration is almost naked and unadorned, unrelenting and existing for its own sake. We are never given the response, and at this point, it seems completely unnecessary.

“Longing For”
By channeling Mazzy Star’s ethereal, lovelorn aesthetic (complete with nuanced, folk-tinged guitar work and a delicate, plaintive voice that soars above and sinks beneath the mix at different points), “Longing For” turns the forward-looking gaze of “Baby I Love You So” to the past, contemplating emotion aided by the benefit of hindsight and engaging with it from a different standpoint in which desire is once again articulated, but this time with a pervasive note of lucidity. The musical landscape changes as well. “Longing For” is assertive, self-assured, arriving at an ending that it dictates. Sentimentality appears to be represented as a conscious choice, and the act of reminiscing as an exercise in examining one’s own emotions and reiterating one’s desire.

These songs never seem to overstep their boundaries: melodies are restrained, the vocal delivery remains understated despite emotional charges, individual instrumental parts work with the space provided by the gaps in between them. On “Uncertainly”, the horns sing in the background, lending the track qualities similar to Kaputt-era Destroyer, whose music seems to resist the urge to explode in spite of the fact that it is loaded with a variety of different elements. Ourselves the Elves have exhibited an uncommon ability for restraint, never allowing crescendoes to get out of hand, controlling the chaos that threatens to encroach upon the track by allowing it to fade out, suspending the resolution once again.

“Cincinnati Clocks”
Functioning as the enchanting, dramatic closedown, “Cincinnati Clocks” retains the strongpoints of all previous tracks, slowly inching toward a climax and taking it back as soon as it seems to manifest. The entire song seems predicated on a memory and the desire to sing its idyllic, nostalgic situation to life, to “make the clocks stop” and transport the imagined scenario to the foreground of reality, and the picture painted is so vivid and palpable that it almost realizes its goal. However, the end, where the delay pedals and the actual delays finally fluctuate, is succeeded by silence, and then the cycle repeats.

Geography Lessons

Perhaps the theme that binds this collection together is the recognition that love, loss, and longing constitute polyphony; all three components are active at the same time in spite of differing locations, stretching beyond the confines of space. The peaks of emotion are augmented by a sound that is both straightforward and otherworldly, with elements that work toward a strong, singular effect, and Ourselves the Elves have revealed their private (yet universal) sensations to the public with a palatable yet courageous, a simple yet sophisticated collection of songs that refuse to dissolve in the mind. AItos Ledesma

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