I’ve often believed that there are 5, (not 4) elements in the Universe: Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Neil Young. Is there a 6th? Elephant Micah (Justin O’Connell) allows us to explore this possibility, getting our fingernails dirty, spreading the soil in our hands, determining its mineral properties, and inspecting the glittering particles for further examination.
Vague Tidings was inspired by O’Connell’s own solitary journey north into the Alaska Wilderness, and his team of instrumentalists are considerable gems in their own right: Libby Rodenbough (Mipso) detuned fiddle, Matt Douglas (Mountain Goats) various woodwinds, and Matt O’Connell (Chorusing, Lean Year). Their sublimely loose playing is reminiscent of Michael Brooks’ better efforts in the equally great film ‘Into the Wild’ (2007), slowly building up intensity as the songs reach their critical mass.
“Glacier Advisors” begins our hitchhike north with a line that drops a pin on the map in the great North, setting the theme with certainty about where he stands: ‘Glacier movers. Every view of the moon is now at your command. The map in your hands was drawn long ago. Now there’s no way of knowing.’
Another freshly unearthed gem of Vague Tidings is “Return to the Abandoned Observatory.” O’Connell places us in the body of perhaps a Native American Athabaskan Indian upon the threshold of the early Colonial Soldiers: “Take one more sip from the little dipper before they close this place down. Draw back the bow. Let fly another arrow. Along the lines that are memorized.”
Songs like “Occidental Blue” and “The Cantor/The Labrador” build beautifully alongside lyrical mantras, without really considering song structure. In this theater, it is perfectly reasonable. These songs connect with a primal, elemental meditative space not built for the modern millennial iPhone gazer. But if you have the slightest sense of adventure, or a willingness to go deeper, this is a truly fine piece of work. A work that allows you to hear what an arctic sunrise sounds like. Ponder that.
Perhaps what I love best about this record is its ability to observe and report the destruction and encroachment by modern man without degrading itself, musically, lyrically sonically, or otherwise into a bloody battle. Check it out, here: http://www.elephantmicah.com