Elf Power: The Art Of Aging Well

Elf Power’s Twitching In Time deals with the inevitable

The real surprise on Elf Power’s new album Twitching In Time (Orange Twin) is “Watery Shreds,” on which co-founder/multi-instrumentalist Laura Carter brought in a completed piano piece and suggested adding big fuzz guitars, leaving singer/guitarist Andrew Rieger free to simply write lyrics. It’s a first in the many years of collaboration between the two, and it’s an instant classic that also illustrates how roles and relationships can change.

Thematically, that makes a lot of sense, as aging, ending and renewal inform all of the songs on the latest release by the Athens, Ga., band. Over 23 years and 13 albums, Elf Power has built a solid reputation both in its own right and via efforts with Vic Chesnutt, as well as Elephant 6 cohorts Olivia Tremor Control and Neutral Milk Hotel. Like 2014’s Sunlight On The Moon, the new album combines home recording with studio tracks.

“Home recording has always been an important part of our process in that it allows for more time for experimentation with different ideas,” says Rieger. “The album is stripped down. There aren’t a ton of overdubs that we’re going to be struggling to reproduce.”

There are repeated images of gray rain, washing away of evidence, eyes, hands clutching, clawing and destroying, and the sun—the appearance of which isn’t necessarily a nurturing thing. But that doesn’t mean Twitching In Time is a dirgey bummer only for late nights; it features plenty of rocking and a beautiful sense of acceptance.

“I definitely intended to repeat some of the imagery across the songs, as I feel it gives the album and the songs a cohesion,” says Rieger. “I was more focused on examining how one’s perception of time changes as you get older, rather than fears or dread related to getting older. Our hands and eyes are our main ways of interacting with the world, so I think they just naturally work their way into the lyrics. And I like the duality of the sun as life-giver and sustainer, as well as being the agent that breaks down and dissolves things when they’ve lived through their cycle.”

Elf Power took its time getting around to making and releasing the album (it’s been nearly four years since Sunlight On The Moon, a significant change from the every-other-year model the band has followed), and that’s reflected in the performances, arrangements and voices used to convey the songs. The classic Elf Power psych-pop sound appears—a sort of Eno fuzz—but even that’s fortified, built on a foundation of previous work while reflecting the chemistry of the current band.

There are plenty of surprises, too—from “Watery Shreds” and the alt-country of “The Cat Trapped In The Wall” to the channeled early-Stipe vocals during “In A Room.” Twitching In Time marries maturity to possibility. It would appear that, creatively, Elf Power has this aging thing figured out.

Marc Tissenbaum