To those of you with an appetite for thorough, well thought out musical criticism (or, in my case, baroque, abstract descriptions that desperately try to translate what I am hearing into what you are reading), please allow me a brief aside to directly address those for whom the simplest description is not only acceptable, but perhaps even desired: Do you enjoy Rihanna, but wish she would embrace a slightly more dissociative air? Then please, listen to the opening cut of Elliphant‘s self titled EP, ‘Down On Life’, and then proceed upon your merry way. (For those of you who do not need your music in easily swallowed gel caps or simply hate the taste of Suboxone, we will now elaborate upon the entire record.)
The most striking aspect of this EP is Elli’s voice; it is both thin and rounded, a wine glass, eschewing–like Rihanna–melisma, armed with an arresting accent, so that “juicy” sounds like “joozy,” and capable of a variety of textures, from the deceptively mellifluous singer found on the aforementioned ‘Down On Life’ to the battering, brassy Queen-Hell of the Dance Floor found chanting and rapping across the EP’s other tracks; aside from the opener, Elli frequents a kind of phencyclidine world music miasma, one which combines dance hall sensibilities and rhythms with more experimental sounds.
The vintage video game opener that segues into what a bombardment of plastic fighter planes would sound like–this provides a certain dystopian vibe, although whether it is amusing or unsettling is up for debate–makes ‘TeKKno Scene’ one of the more aurally ambitious productions of the bunch, and its strange sound is never again quite matched, with the intensity of Elli’s battering vocals reach a climax here, as well.
In comparison, ‘Make It Juicy’ stutters, shuffles, wobbles, and wails, while Elli provides the steady drive. ‘In The Jungle’ is powered by rough, round synths that roil and bleat, while the sneering ‘Ciant Hear It’ evokes images of an Uffie who may actually pop the Glock.
Kudos must be given for the inclusion of ‘Ciant Hear It (Jungle Remix)’; not only is it bold and dramatic in its re-imaging of one of the EP’s strongest cuts, and thereby deserving of its place, it directly addresses the heavy Caribbean vibe the laces the album–although, ironically enough, not so much so on “Ciant”–by steering into the spin. There is a lush, warming sensation to be had in the remix, a stark contrast to the cold, heather urban snow of its surroundings, with up beat synths piercing like sunshine and framing the caustic frolicsomeness of the original in new light.
A raw sexuality permeates the album, a feeling–to borrow an image from Cat Marnell–of “fur coats over lacy leotards,” a uniform for smoking cigarettes out of the window, a scene to which I would add voodoo dolls and a steel drum filled with rum and blood, within which bobs maraschino cherries, with the whole thing lit by votive candles that reflect little Jovian pools on the snow outside the window beneath the smoke. The sweeping, nihilistic cool of ‘Down On Life’ (which is perhaps the best song on the entire record, a potentially dangerous thing with it being the outlier and all), the pulsing, quivering synths of the other tracks, the dance evoking syncopations, all are a touch alluring and a tad dirty, which is, of course, where their allure comes from.
When Santigold proclaimed herself the savior of popular music and went on to release a decidedly banal M.I.A. album, Elliphant is most likely what she heard in her mind. There is a Janus like quality to Elliphant, the angel dust pop of ‘Down on Life’ almost completely removed from the seething energy of the rest of the EP, but that is a concern–in the interest sense, not the disquieting sense–best put off for another day. Better to enjoy it now than to worry if it is a beautiful aberration, and, even if that should prove to be the case, the world could do worse than to have another salacious, dance demanding, beguilingly voiced artist within it.