Tag Archive: Elbow

This article first appeared at No Ripcord on February 13, 2017.


By this point, Elbow feels like an English institution. The band has played charming, heartening music for decades and has a dedicated fanbase. When you’re around for such a long time, you need to find ways to keep your sound fresh. On Little Fictions, the band continues its gradual evolution with some success but also some noticeable missteps.

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This article first appeared at No Ripcord on September 28, 2015.


In a follow-up to last year’s The Take Off and Landing of Everything, Elbow’s released a four-song EP based on their hometown of Manchester. Lost Worker Bee makes for a lovely epilogue to this period of the band’s existence, incorporating the best of their qualities while also diving into previously unexplored musical landscapes.

The EP starts with the title track, a jangle tune filled with good vibes. Like the best Elbow songs, it feels like a slightly drunk hug, warm and friendly. The chorus lifts off, but doesn’t feel the need to enter the stratosphere. Instead, it gradually builds further with each repetition, as glorious horns punctuate thesoundscape, spread out over a bed of bubbling synths.

And It Snowed sounds like a sleepier sequel to U2’s New Year’s Day, with icy piano notes and a pulsing bass line. While it’s lyrically a simple concept (it’s snowing in town), Guy Garvey’s smooth delivery and imaginative wordplay (“Angels freezing in a city rose garden/Click their way back home/You’ve done your leaving/Livid in your splendor and alone”) elevates it to find the beauty in the mundane.

Roll Call is the best song here and an unique entry in Elbow’s catalog. A rolling, rhythmic monster, this track makes you want to get in your car and drive on the highway as it plays on repeat. You can picture yourself speeding past forests, hills and cities, with infinity ahead of you.

The gentle comedown from the previous track, Usually Bright is a low-key acoustic affair, with all the attention centered on Garvey’s weary voice. “Hotel in my hometown/The saddest room I ever woke in/Try to enjoy yourself out there/The saddest words you’ve ever spoken,” he sings, reflecting the bittersweet moments of life on the road, where your hometown is just one stop of many, and the world moves on without you.

While Lost Worker Bee only paints an abstract picture of Elbow’s life in Manchester, that actually works in the songs’ favor. The details of the city matter less than what these places mean to the band members, something that is relatable for anyone. We all have a hometown. Whether we still live there to this day or have moved elsewhere, there’s an irresistible pull and a comforting sense of familiarity that will always exist.


It’s that time again. With hundreds of releases and dozens of favorites, it’s a near-impossible task to narrow down my picks for the 10 best albums of the 2014. Still, these are the records that stuck with me the most, the ones I kept going back to over and over. If an album sticks in your head for several months after you first hear it, that artist is doing something right. These are the picks that stayed with me the most.

10. Elbow – The Take Off and Landing of Everything


After the arena-ready anthems of Elbow’s last three albums, the five-piece goes intimate on The Take Off and Landing of Everything. Well, as intimate as such a worldly, ambitious band can go. While the title track is a seven-minute blast of ecstatic energy and celebration, Fly Boy Blue / Lunette is a drunken swagger jam, Charge simmers rather than boils, My Sad Captains is anchored by majestic horns and New York Morning finds the gentle moments in the bustling city. Elbow has enough chest-beating, boisterous epics. This year, the band moved forward and found new colors and vibes to explore. They are better off for it.

Highlights: Fly Boy Blue / Lunette, New York Morning, The Take Off and Landing of Everything

09. Brody Dalle – Diploid Love


Every years, there’s an unexpected record that blows away expectations. For 2014, that honor goes to Diploid Love, which finds Brody Dalle in a much better place in her life. Now past the drug addiction and abusive relationships that colored her earlier work, Dalle makes a comeback with roaring guitars and shredded vocals. She successfully marries punk to experimentation in a way that few other artists have managed. Listen to the mariachi guitar on Underworld, the electronic beat of Carry On or the parade horns of Rat Race. Her lyrics and performance are as inspiring as they are vicious. This is the sound of Dalle beating down her demons, and what an exhilarating sound it is.

Highlights: Don’t Mess With Me, Dressed in Dreams, Blood in Gutters

08. Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots


Damon Albarn has always been wary of technology, ever since he dismissed sitting around and playing computer games on Blur’s Jubilee. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that he would dedicate an album to this theme. While the title track and Lonely Press Play is full of heady questions on the digital age, Everyday Robots is also a look back at Albarn’s own life. Whether he’s singing about the elephant he met on Mr. Tembo or going over key years in his history on Hollow Ponds, Albarn brings a delicate balance of world-weariness and hope. The music is mostly understated, but beautifully layered. Not bad for his solo “debut.”

Highlights: Lonely Press Play, Mr. Tembo, Heavy Seas of Love

07. The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers


For the first time in a decade, The New Pornographers are throwing a party. The introspective mood and low-key songs of the last two records are gone, replaced by an electro-pop celebration. The whole crew is back and bringing their best vibes to Brill Bruisers. From the burst of synchronized singing on the title track to the sparkling harmonies of You Tell Me Where, this record will rouse anyone out of their seats and onto the dance floor. This is the New Pornographers: the electric version.

Highlights: Champions of Red Wine, Backstairs, Dancehall Domine

06. Beck – Morning Phase


The idea of following up Sea Change more than a decade later seems questionable on paper at best. But we should have known better than to doubt Beck’s ability. This West Coast-soaked record is a mirrored reflection of that album’s brilliance. Rather than sounding despondent, Beck now looks forward to each day, welcoming the Waking Light of Morning. Copying the style of one of your most acclaimed albums is a challenge to say the least. The fact that Beck could create 13 more beautiful, magical songs that match up with the best of Sea Change is a testament to his abilities as a songwriter. If all mornings were like this, maybe I wouldn’t be such a night owl.

Highlights: Morning, Blue Moon, Waking Light


As our first taste of “The Take Off and Landing Of Everything,” Elbow makes sure that “Fly Boy Blue/Lunette” lives up to the title. The first half of the track has the drunken swagger of a speakeasy, with jaunty acoustic guitars being joined to stream-of-consciousness wordplay. Horns kick in with enough force to blast you out of the bar and into the clouds. Switching to “Lunette,” the song beautifully strips back to a lighter-than-air touch on all ends. “Would the dawn ever kiss me, forgiven me, knowing what’s done?/Would the drivel make scribble make sense and then song?” Guy Garvey asks, as the music gently drops you back to Earth.

This article first appeared at No Ripcord on September 7th, 2012.

When it comes to b-sides compilations, the preference for release is leaning more and more towards fan club exclusive downloads.  Of course, Elbow was never a band for leaving people out.  Their communal senses lead Dead in the Boot to getting the full album treatment, physical CD and all.  The result is a collection that will obviously please the diehard followers and may even give the casual listener something to nod along to.

Titled by Guy Garvey’s sister as a clever callback to their debut Asleep in the Back, the record paints an alternate history for Elbow.  In this version of reality, the band never went the anthemic route that they discovered around Leaders of the Free World.  Instead, they focused on creating gentle mood pieces that allowed for more subtleties.  Nothing here reaches the heights of One Day Like This or Station Approach.  Each number is a little musical project that contains elements of future directions they would eventually take.

Lucky With Disease is a gentle, piano-laden affair with softly spoken vocals.  If this doesn’t sound like something you’d enjoy, it’d be in your interest to cherry pick your favorites from iTunes rather than getting the whole album.  Many of the band’s earlier b-sides fall into this pattern, such as Whisper Grass and None One.  This does allow greater attention to be given to Garvey’s excellent lyrics.  Lines like “In this cellular age / Phone sex is too expensive” are more offbeat than his usual offerings, giving the audience a different look into his writing process.  All in all though, many of these songs feel like half-developed ideas.  This is especially true of Waving From Windows, a song that pushes and pulls between electronic bleeps and gorgeous strings, but ultimately goes nowhere.

The b-sides from Leaders of the Free World are the most interesting by far, moving outside the band’s comfort zones and really showcasing the musical expansion they were going through at the time. No wonder the record was a breakthrough success.  The Long War Shuffle is sly and slinky, throwing in a dirty country riff unlike anything in the band’s catalogue.  It tumbles along in until a steel guitar solo rips through the speakers, jolting you out of the false sense of security the steady rhythm produces. Why don’t they use that instrument more often?  The other song taken from that time, McGreggor, is a nasty, percussion-heavy piece of work.  Garvey spits out lyrics like “A woman at the window / With her hands on her hips / Staring out across the ocean / Like the prow of a ship” with venom that’s hardly found in any album tracks.  It’s a vocal style that warrants future exploration.

Once we get into the era of The Seldom Seen Kid and beyond, Elbow moves into styles both expected (Snowball’s acoustic build to a soaring crescendo) and unexpected (the vibrating drone and outer space choir of Every Bit The Little Girl).  In either scenario, the songs are vibrant and worth checking out, but don’t match up to the album tracks.  The only exception is Buffalo Ghosts’ intricate guitars and lyrics, which should have been on Build a Rocket Boys!  Together, this compilation isn’t for everyone and does contain a few duds.  But there are more than enough gems in here to deserve a purchase from any Elbow fan or fanatic.


This article first appeared at Consequence of Sound on September 26th, 2011.

Earlier this year, English quintet Elbow ran through a string of arena tour dates at home, performing to thousands of fans, which included a performance on the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury. Yet over here in the States, they’re headlining shows at venues like New York City’s Terminal 5. Sort of a mindfuck. Though, similar to Muse years back, they’re still working on breaking through in America. If last night’s performance is any indication, they’re well on their way.

Before Elbow arrived to near mass hysteria, Glasser walked out for a sweet and stunning set. When it comes to opening statements, there are few braver than singing your first song unaccompanied. Cameron Mesirow’s passionate vocals had the usually loud New York crowd silent with rapt attention, a respect that lasted for her entire show.

Screams followed shortly after, signalling headliners Elbow. Now, frontman Guy Garvey makes it no secret that he’s excellent at what he does. Despite some cheesy hand swaying with the crowd, Garvey made it fun by saying a concert is the one place where everyone can act like a dick together. Attitudes aside, he was still highly engaging.

The band moved through their collection of emotional songs, starting off with an explosive punch of “The Birds” and “The Bones of You”. “Mirrorball” had the venue swirling in lights. “Grounds for Divorce” was banged out with some assisted drumming from Garvey. However, the most special moments arrived near the end of their set. Elbow played the first half of “Weather to Fly” towards the back of the stage, just to each other, celebrating their 20 years together with a shot and a song. Closing with “One Day Like This”, the audience harmonized with itself, an experience almost unheard of without direction.

Whether the song was from this year’s Build a Rocket Boys!, the Mercury Prize-winning The Seldom Seen Kid, or further back in the catalog, there was love in the air for this band. Hopefully that feeling will continue to spread, giving Elbow the attention in America that it deserves.

Elbow Setlist:
The Birds
The Bones of You
Neat Little Rows
Grounds for Divorce
The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver
Great Expectations
The Night Will Always Win
Puncture Repair
The River
Lippy Kids
Weather to Fly
Open Arms

Station Approach
One Day Like This

This article first appeared at Consequence of Sound on March 23rd, 2011.

Whenever an artist has a breakthrough success, the temptation to churn out more of the same can be almost overwhelming. If it worked once, it’s sure to work again, right? That’s the situation Elbow was in when they released The Seldom Seen Kid to overwhelming critical praise in 2008. Yet, to the relief of many fans, singer Guy Garvey wipes out any such notions of rehash less than five minutes into their latest album, Build a Rocket Boys!.

Looking back is for the birds,” he sings over a sluggish bassline and spacey guitar doodlings. Even if the sentiment has nothing to do with the band’s career, it’s still very fitting. Elbow’s fifth studio album sounds both familiar and refreshing, pulling influences from its past catalog but also expanding outward. From their own work, it mixes the layered progressions of Cast of Thousands with the pop sensibilities from The Seldom Seen Kid. As for other artists, it’ll be impossible for you to not hear Peter Gabriel all over the place, along with hints of OK Computer-era Radiohead. Despite the prevalence of these past sounds, it all works together to create a record that feels like forward progression in Elbow’s career, sacrificing neither critical nor commercial appeal.

Opening track, “The Birds”, is worth the price of admission alone. Over the course of eight minutes, the song builds from the sound of a lonesome shaker to an explosive conclusion with waves of instrumentation. Each section evolves into the next musical endeavor, knowing just when to switch it up before the listener gets bored. The opening few minutes are awash with a rumbling bass that keeps everything grounded. About halfway through, takeoff begins, as twinkling guitar notes float around Garvey’s speak-singing.  Suddenly, instead of mumbling out the last word of the the verse, he belts it out as strings flood the speakers, filling out every last bit of musical real estate in glorious melodies. It’s almost like being in the middle of a bustling street in Midtown Manhattan, then as the song moves along, you take an elevator to the top of a skyscraper and see the beautiful landscape as a whole.

Other numbers are equally impressive. “Neat Little Rows” is the only song that really qualifies as “the single.” A James Bond bass guides the verses along over Garvey’s singsong vocals. The easily-digestible chorus features an incredibly catchy, descending piano arpeggio, while the drums beat out a simple pattern. With lyrics that will get lodged in your head (“Lay my bones in the cobblestones/Lay my bones in neat little rows”), this one will be a live favorite for years to come. “Open Arms” kicks off with two competing keyboard melodies that juxtapose sublimely. While the background keyboard line moves at a frantic and jumpy pace, the one in the forefront slowly chugs along, drawing out each note. Drums powerfully pound their way into a group-shout chorus, one which will undoubtedly work well in an arena. Garvey’s performance on this song is stunning, switching from a calm, focused vocal to a passionate, belting rendition within one verse.

Many of the songs found here aren’t necessarily as powerful but still have plenty to love about them. “Lippy Kids”, a defense of British teenagers, is a subtly layered track that combines wordless backing vocals, gentle piano work, and sunny guitar touches into a beautiful, relaxing arrangement. “With Love” is a rhythm-dominated number that lays on keyboard melodies along with The Hallé Youth Choir supplying backup alongside Garvey. “The Night Will Always Win” introduces a light piano pattern that matches the vocals note for note, stripping back much of the lush instrumentation. It’s in love songs like these that Garvey’s lyrical uniqueness shines. It’s not every day that you hear someone say “I’d give my liver to see you abide and ride shotgun” or “I miss your stupid face/I miss your bad advice.” High marks here for originality.

Not everything here is ready for takeoff (last rocket pun, I swear). The utterly forgettable “Jesus Is a Rochdale Girl” is disappointing since it has wonderful imagery (“Sunflowers and paint cans and stolen shopping carts”), but it lacks the melodies to keep your interest. “The Birds (Reprise)” is a completely unnecessary track, featuring a lackluster guest vocal from John Moseley. It doesn’t add anything to the opener and will probably be skipped on many listens.

So…will Build a Rocket Boys! be as much of a career leap for Elbow was The Seldom Seen Kid was? Only time will tell, but it doesn’t seem likely. But that’s alright. The band didn’t set out to create a hit-laden album that repeats the successes of their past. Instead, they’ve crafted an album full of beautifully lush melodies, intricate patterns, and soaring vocalizations. Nearly every song has something great to offer. That certainly sounds like the definition of success.