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Thursday, 17 April 2014 10:00

Album review: Elephant crafts an ethereal debut on 'Sky Swimming'

Album review: Elephant crafts an ethereal debut on 'Sky Swimming'
Written by Liz Schranck

"Sky Swimming"
Memphis Industries

Amelia Rivas and Christian Pinchbeck of the UK band Elephant describe their sound as "nocturnal, lo-fi, bedroom dreamy beach pop," and the release of their first full-length album "Sky Swimming" embodies that description without question.

From Rivas' sweeping vocal melodies to Pinchbeck's ambient guitar-playing, the album feels like a magical, other-worldly dream from start to finish.

The London natives have been together for a mere three years, but have produced music that suggests a much longer relationship. The two met at a house party in 2010, and very shortly thereafter "Elephant" was born. They released their first single, "Shapeshifter," in 2013, followed by "Skyscraper" in March 2014; both appear on their full-length album.

The first track "Assembly" gives the album an energetic start with its upbeat percussion and Rivas' whimsical keyboard and vocal arrangements. Rivas backs her own vocal melody with "Oh's" throughout the verses, bringing out that dreamy, beach-pop sound.

"Skyscraper" follows and soars easily with its slow-beated drumming and bass line. A chorus of operatic voices ascend and descend with conviction as Rivas delicately sings, "Skyscrapers save us as when we scrape the skies, running high, oh yes stand, stand, watch us when we scrape the skies. Don't let me fall now."

This is what these two have a real knack for: creating vivid images through powerful songwriting. The third track, "Allured" begins with Rivas' vocal over solo piano (the first break from the keyboard) for one whole glorious moment before the entrance of percussion. It's just enough to pull you in so you can begin to dream.

"Elusive Youth" marks the end of that dreamy ballad sequence. Quick-tempo quarter notes on the keyboard bring back the beach-pop element. "Shipwrecked" follows as a beautiful ballad, with its heartbreaking vocal melody and slow-beaten snare drum. As the song nears the end, Rivas' vocal begins to stutter and skip, creating the parallel of a broken heart and a broken ship.

The title track "Sky Swimming," is stunning, with the first appearance of Pinchbeck on the acoustic guitar to match Rivas' melody on the piano. The song builds slowly, with the synthesizer and strings entering to create a perfect climax as Rivas' voice transitions into the bridge.

The album's one shortcoming is the occasional difficulty of understanding the lyrics. Rivas' dreamy voice enthralls listeners on every track, but it would be that much more powerful if her words were clearer.

"Shapeshifter" makes for a powerful finish, with Pinchbeck's arrangements on guitar and Rivas demonstrating her vocal range and its powerful chorus to match: "I flew to the moon to see you; I saw the future."

On "Sky Swimming," Elephant has released a debut album that will surely create excitement for its current and future endeavors.

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