Reviews

Elephant Shell

Author: Adam Moerder
04/23/2008 | Pitchforkmedia.com | www.pitchforkmedia.com/article/record_review/50057-elephant-shell | Album Review
After two years' worth of suspense, Tokyo Police Club's Elephant Shell carries a far heavier weight than your average debut LP. It's a letter of intent from a band that's squatted on the fence, tentative to commit to one particular genre until now. On their snappy EPs, the fresh-faced Toronto four-piece courted emo, post-punk, and pop fans with equal coquettishness, their brief, catchy songs terminating before anyone could wring them through extensive indie taxonomy. As the band's first release on Saddle Creek, no one should be surprised that Elephant Shell showcases TPC waxing bookish emo. Sure, the songs still barely scrape the two-minute mark, and you'll be hard pressed to find any long-winded solos or codas, but the band's signature assembly line efficiency has become saturated with densely layered arrangements, not to mention lead singer Dave Monks' self-consciously mature vocals. Formally shrouded in megaphone hisses and cracks, Monks practically croons in your ear, and he's brought his thesaurus with him. Already netting considerable Colin Meloy and Ben Gibbard comparisons, Monks' stately delivery isn't exactly shying away from the similarities, especially with mouthfuls like "Dead lovers salivate/ Broken hearts tessellate tonight."

Warmed by sentiments like this, the rest of the band sounds equally gooey. Unlike the quick-cut action movie pacing of the EPs, Elephant Shell's built on fluid songwriting, each track easing into the next without giving the listener much of a jolt. While the holistic craftsmanship is commendable, lush guitar tones and intricate instrumentation doesn't do justice to the band's potential visceral kick. Just listen to the handclaps on "The Harrowing Adventures Of...". Recycled from TPC's stunning sci-fi ballad "Citizens of Tomorrow", the claps feel better suited for a golf match, lackadaisically inserted into this ho-hum sea chanty (Meloy strikes again!) as cutesy ornamentation. At times, the newfound prim and properness can feel downright suffocating. The synth line on "Graves" desperately wants to blast off like an M83 melody, but the song's brooding heft weighs it down. Even on a solid track like "Juno", with its stuttering drum intro and music hall piano punctuations, gets choked off, slumping on its anti-climactic chorus rather than shouting.

Despite these setbacks, Elephant Shell stands to soak up tons of new fans and earn serious shine soundtracking TV teen dramas. That's not so much an attack on the album's marketable gravitas as it is an acknowledgment of its consistently easy-on-the-ears sound. However, with each instrument no longer fighting for attention, and Monks resting comfortably in his mid-range vocal groove, the album leaves a less-than-memorable impression. Whereas cheerleader chants and fanatic barks goaded their earlier ramshackle tracks, urging them along despite the vague sci-fi and political themes, their new incarnation conscientiously covers its bases. After dampening the powerdrill riffs on opener "Centennial" with his long-winded lyrics, Monks practically calls timeout towards the track's close to spell things out for us: "I'm running out of space/ So let me sum this up for you." The deliberation proves to be an omen. After nailing the rapid-fire EP format with tracks that constantly threatened to disintegrate themselves from the inside-out, TPC psyche themselves out on their first full-length, over-cooking songs made from otherwise spectacular ingredients.
Elephant Shell

Elephant Shell

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