Elk City - House of Tongues
Record Label: Friendly Fire Recordings
Release Date: June 1, 2010
Elk CIty is a town of 10,510 residents in Beckham County, Oklahoma, located just off historic Rte. 66 and I-40. It's not a particularly exciting or awe-inspiring place. How or why exactly the New Jersey-by-way-of-New York city quartet named their band after this Sooner locale is anyone's guess. That's where the uncertainty ends though, as the band's sophomore album House of Tongues may just be the sleeper hit of the year.
This gnomic, 10-song effort is nothing short of stunning. Seductive, languorous and incredibly sophisticated, the group revisits 1970s radio pop while also tackling folk, soul and jazz. Elk City is anchored by vocalist Renee LoBue whose vocal gymnastics bend and twist around circular guitars, layers of lush orchestrations and undeniably potent melodies. Equal parts Laurel Canyon and Parisian coffeehouse, this intoxicating tapestry is eerily without flaw. Guitarist Sean Eden, who was a member of the seminal wonderboys Luna feels more comfortable on this disc than ever before and his indelible guitar lines reverberate from opening cut "Real Low Riders" to the epic closer "2010," which channels both Bowie and Eno.
Elk City is more than just veneer and coruscates though. The urgent "Jerks on Ice," is jittery, jumpy and emotionally exhausting, while the should-be single "Nine O'Clock in France," swirls and ducks around LoBue's seductive phrasing. She and Eden are backed by drummer/producer Ray Ketcham and keyboardist Carl Bagalley who form a cohesive whole on the punchy "Stars," which is anchored by Ketcham's bombastic drumming. One of the album's indubitable pinnacles is the slow-moving "The Onion," in which LoRue documents an afternoon spent reading the mock newspaper as she opines, "I finally have the courage to look in the mirror and stand up for my life."
LoBue's vocals are simply astounding as she illustrates her vast range and channels Patti Smith and Hope Sandoval. Though she is the definitive center point she is fortunate to be buttressed by a wealth of searing guitar solos and bouncy piano lines. It's easy to craft an album that harkens back to a different era, but it's not easy to sound this effortless, this polished and this enjoyable. Whereas most bands sound like imitation basement acts, Elk City sounds like a bona fide amphitheater-ready juggernaut. Yep, they're that good. These 10 songs will prove it.