Elefant - The Black Magic Show
Release Date: April 18, 2006
Record Label: Hollywood/Kemado Records
Using a wide palette of styles in the indie-pop and new wave realm, the collective that makes up Elefant possess a musical charisma all their own. Beguiling frontman Diego Garcia has an air about himself that bleeds into his music. His personality, confidence, and strong pipes all make one of the more underrated singers in music today. I saw the band perform with Jimmy Eat World last year and they put on a heck of a show. As a result, the seduction and smooth vibes translate throughout the albums. With 2003’s Sunlight Makes Me Paranoid, Elefant put out an admirable debut that got the job done while retaining staying power and banishing derivativeness. They return to Hollywood/Kemado Records three years later with the culmination of tireless work titled The Black Magic Show. Drawing strong influences from literature, the songwriting promises to be more conceptual, fluid, and hopefully excellent.
Extravagant electric riffs highlight “Uh Oh Hello,” possibly the most Sunlight-esque song on the new album. It is a hard-rocking good time with Garcia’s syrupy vocals taking the edge off just enough to avoid injuring anyone. Surprisingly, the intro to the album “Black Magic Show (Introducing)” comes off as a flagship track. Setting the album up like the decadent work that Diego Garcia and friends imagined, the energy oozes forth, with neither urgency nor alarming regularity. I love how it presents the potential for a concept album; unfortunately, it doesn’t follow through on it as it perhaps should. The biggest problem I have found deals with some of the song structures and the lyricism on The Black Magic Show. Instead of weaving an intricate, flowing story, it seems at times that Garcia drives a point home using repetition until the phrase has beaten itself into your memory banks. As a result, some of the songs on the album do not vary structurally or lyrically as much as you would anticipate. TBMS is not bad, but the spectacular moments don't stand apart as much as they did on the band’s previous album. Those ranging vocals we heard in the past are rare, with Elefant instead relying on a flashy chorus or two atop seductive guitar-bass combos that prove difficult to differentiate instead of classic soaring wails. With the exceptions of the aforementioned “Uh Oh Hello,” the tempting lead single “Lolita,” and the airy “Why,” most of the songs seem contrived to varying degrees. “Lolita,” while a fun radio single about forbidden love, could probably benefit from some more depth in lieu of Diego’s chanting of her name. The song features a great instrumental backing to it, but it is the fact that Elefant do not open up musically that continues to hold them down.
While The Black Magic Show does not reside in the realm of the irrelevant, Elefant have yet to fully capitalize on their scintillating indie sex-rock potential. Their latest work steps forward in most areas from the surprisingly solid debut, but it may be another album or two before they are well rounded enough to blow listeners away. The guitars have gotten more progressive and the rest of the instruments have solidified, but the vocals have regressed a bit, as has the songwriting, in this reviewer’s humble opinion. There’s no doubt the themes are there, but the way the band words the songs leaves something to be desired. Overbearing repetition and some simplistic imagery just do not leave the same lasting impression that Sunlight Makes Me Paranoid left in our hearts. The new album is an intriguing purchase because it will appeal to many people and it lies in a weaker genre for releases so far this year, but it may prove to be a bit of a letdown for the most diehard listeners. Don’t count Elefant out by any means; they have the raw talent to leave you pooled on the floor like Jell-O—just you wait.