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Elf Power

Over the past half-decade, Athens, Georgia-based Elf Power has evolved into one of the giants of the much-revered/maligned Elephant Six Collective (the loose-knit clan of indie rock outfits distinguished by their fondness for the fey retro sounds of The Beach Boys and The Kinks and their appreciation for analog recording techniques). They may not be as wildly experimental or borderline deranged as groups like The Olivia Tremor Control and Neutral Milk Hotel (whose members regularly contribute to Elf Power's albums), but they have proven themselves extremely adept at crafting cohesive albums of extremely enjoyable, gently psychedelic, melodic fuzz-pop embroidered with a wealth of strange, exotic sounds -- albums which seem to get better and better each time out.

Elf Power was founded by muli-instrumentalists and vocalists Andrew Rieger and Laura Carter, who issued their debut, the extremely lo-fi Vainly Clutching at Phantom Limbs, on Arena Rock in 1995. By the time of their 1997 follow-up, the more coherent, more psychedelic, Lord of the Ringsish When the Red King Comes, they'd signed on additional core members Bryan Poole, aka Brian Helium (who has since left the band after three albums) and Aaron Wegelin. Two years later, Elf Power returned with their landmark A Dream in Sound, for which they recruited acclaimed Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann, who did a great job bringing out the plaintive, poignant psychedelic pop buried beneath the group's fuzzed-out, lo-fi veneer.

Fridmann returned to lend his talents on Elf Power's 2000 album The Winter Is Coming (which saw them move from Arena Rock to Sugar Free). That album continues in much the same vein as A Dream in Sound. Phil Spector-style walls of sound made of strings, woodwinds, and horns appear periodically, counterbalanced by Rieger's ethereal, half-asleep vocals. Summery Anglophilic textures reminiscent of The Kinks appear often, but there's a countervailing tendency towards the darkness of Jeff Mangum's harrowing fuzz-folk. Exotic droning Eastern influences -- sitars and zithers and the like -- bring out the '60s psychedelic flavor. You could say that this album, like all of Elf Power's stuff, really, occupies a kind of E6 middle ground, summing up the various musical perspectives of the collective's many members. But "middle ground" should not be confused with "half-assed"; without question, Elf Power offers satisfyingly full-flavor psychedelic indie rock.