Wednesday 4 January 2023

Elephant Groove - Annihilation (2023)

Country: Italy
Style: Stoner Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 1 Jan 2023
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

Here's a second debut album showing up early in 2023 that's well worth your attention. Elephant Groove are a power trio from Milan who play a versatile form of stoner rock, alternating between Black Sabbath at their most Planet Caravan mellow and a variety of alternative rock styles. Their most natural musical home seems to be the former, because they start out that way on Sargassum and keep coming back to it, not only to wrap that opener up with a second bookend but all through One More Ride and for much of Walls. Bear in mind that there are only five songs here.

It's a delicious sound too, guitarist Davide D'Alfonso conjuring rivers of notes out of the air like he's manipulating liquid glass. It sounds even better when drums and bass join him in a minimalist way, because it grounds us while he's still floating around in the sky above us. Andrea Lucchese is their drummer and the bassist is Jody Purita. Frankly, I could let that default Elephant Groove sound flow through me for days, especially through a pair of headphones in the dark, but I'm fascinated by where else they go.

Sargassum grows into a couple of places. Early on, it's reminiscent of Tool, not only because of the Maynard James Keenan style vocals, also by D'Alfonso, but because of the unusual rhythms from Lucchese, which are emphasised by Purita's bass mirroring the drums so closely. Later it turns into an epic finalé of wailing guitar right out of the late sixties San Francisco heavy psychedelia scene. It's a different style from the go to sound for this band, but Davide once again seems to be sculpting music rather than playing it.

Kingdom takes a very different approach. The clean rhythmic opening reminds of Joy Division and the bass doesn't dissuade us of that feeling, even if it's a little funkier than Peter Hook would play for them. This one's instrumental for half its running time, before it turns into an alternative vibe that somehow sounds both American and Australian. This one's definitely a child of the nineties, if a little less reminiscent of the obvious bands and more the genre flouting influences that carved out the road that they followed into an unexpected mainstream.

Annihilation wraps up the album with another take. There's some funk going on in this one too but it's kept in the background, behind raw and heavy guitarwork that gets sludgy at points, with firm nods towards the Swans and the Melvins. There's another mellow section in the middle though. It doesn't seem to matter where Elephant Groove go musically; they'll always find their way back to that mellow vibe, as if they're floating through space peacefully and suddenly receive music from out of the blue that they jam with until the signal goes away and they're back to being mellow.

This approach leads me to think that the album is a little short at under thirty-five minutes. It's an enjoyable ride, even if you fuel up the bus and take the trip again and again, but I found a need to know what sound they'd tune into next to incorporate into tracks six and seven? I can float along in the Planet Caravan vibe for a while until that next sound comes along. What do you mean it's over and we're rolling right back into Sargassum? Then again, this approach also means that I could see an Elephant Groove album doing the Polygondwanaland thing and rolling the final track back into the opener so the album becomes an infinite loop.

Talking of Sargassum, it's the early highlight here but I think I like One More Ride more. D'Alfonso's vocals dive into the background on One More Ride, his guitar bubbling all around, until it starts to feel like Ian Anderson joining in on Planet Caravan from the next door studio. I get lost so much in this one, I keep coming out of it halfway through Walls and have to go back to listen to how one ends and the next begins. I could see my favourites not being yours though. There's a lot more here than is typically the case on an overtly stoner rock album.

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