The nine tracks of Elvis Depressedly‘s most recent release, New Alhambra run about 20 minutes in total — the 3 1/2 minute title song is the longest. It builds slowly, its arc almost imperceptible until a particularly contemplative melody rings through the ambient hum. Despite somber lyrics (“Break these wild horses / I have wasted my whole life “) the song portrays a careful elegance.
Elvis Depressedly (at least key members Mat Cothran and Delaney Mills) recently relocated from Columbia, S.C. to Asheville. The recording also includes the contributions of Amy Cuthbertson, Ryan Galloway, Aaron Graves and Mike Roberts.
From the languid opening notes of “Thou Shall Not Murder” — a breezily psychedelic track that winds its way between tranquil vocals and static-y, alien samples — the album offers itself up as a kind of summer soundtrack from within the cool recesses of a basement. The way a dark and air conditioned movie theater feels so indulgent on a hot day: That’s the mood of New Alhambra‘s dreamscapes.
“Bruises (Amethyst),” with its voice-from-another-room effect and driving percussion starts out like a game changer but quickly falls into the band’s narcotic lull. There’s a thin line in this song collection between abject and beautiful darkness. Those two elements at times work in harmony and at others — “Rock ‘n’ Roll” — are at odds. Though the tension is merely hinted it. It could be an illusion. The garage-y jangle of “Rock ‘n’ Roll” is echoed by the muted bombast of “Big Break.” The latter, with its lilting, up-turned refrain, is almost hopeful until the strange and haunting final seconds of sampling — preaching or anti-preaching, it’s hard to say.
There’s more than one mention of the crucifixion (“Jesus died on the cross / so I could quit my job”) and of organized religion (“you know that even this gospel called Christian is connected / with the body of satan”). But where the lyrics could be inferred as ironic, the weight of the music and the thoughtful construction of each song — a kind of world in miniature, glimpsed through the lens of a View Master — suggests there’s some serious contemplation in place. The hypnotic thrum and repetitive rhythms are oppressive in some moments, meditative in others — an apt recreation of the experience of pondering our place, as humans, in this world of simultaneous wonder and devastation.
“Ease” — which floats over a grinding guitar part, its vocals softly murmured, its percussion almost liquid — finds that delicate balance between wonder and devastation. It’s just under two minutes of elevated sadness, the calm that follows a good cry. But instead of resolving, the song simply dissolves into the between-stations distraction of radio static.
The final song, somewhat out of character for the album, is “Wastes of Time.” A tender folk offering, it’s straight forward — just voice and strummed guitar. But its sincerity underscored the intention of the rest of the record. And with lyrical gems like “heartbreak can’t phase me / I am crazy but I’m true,” the unadorned approach is the exact right aesthetic choice.
It’s the eighth track, “New Heaven, New Earth,” though, that feels most like the culmination of New Alhambra‘s ideas and artistic processes. The drums exist someplace between synthetic and organic, the addition of cello adds sonorous warmth while electric guitar, atmospherics and samples balance lushness with otherworldly grit. And even though the vocal wavers through effects — audible but never quite caught head-on — the delivery from dusky softness to lithe upper register is spectacular in its subtlety.