vic chesnutt, elf power and the amorphous strums Dark Developments (digipak CD, £10.75)label: Orange Twin
Breathtaking collaboration between folk icon Vic Chesnutt and veterans Elf Power. A tuneful collision of Athens institutions finds fruition. As intriguing as this combination may seem for hardcore fans of either act, the final sonic results reveal a daunting sum much greater than even the involvement of such esteemed parts would imply; the Elves' lived-in dexterity as a live band goads Vic's vocal delivery to a menacing new muscularity, imbuing this batch of songs with a sinister vibe not dissimilar to John Cale's black classic "Fear," the harsh, articulate sleaze of Lou Reed's "Street Hassle" or the defeated low key soul-music of Nick Lowe's last few records. And Chesnutt's songwriting retains its trademark literary bent; central songs carry the narrative weight, sturdy construction and lexical mystery of a long lost Raymond Carver story. And as he still woos you with his squelched, beautiful melodies, his sonic turns-in-the-road take an even stranger tack with the aid of the psych-pop veterans. Recorded over the course of a winter by Vic and Derek Almstead in Chesnutt's own attic studio, "Dark Developments" revels in the intimate, home-recorded atmosphere you'd expect from a union like this. Elf Power's tripped-out pop-smarts provide the contradictory musical notions that never allow the album to sway too far in one bleak direction or another: it's that friction extant between Chesnutt's shadowy world view and the inventive bounce and bray of the band's joyful chemistry that buoys the album, provides its freshness, and makes for highly rewarding repeated listening. "Dark Developments" stands as a classic addition to the legendary local pantheon and, most importantly, as a brilliant statement endemic of a natural partership between two separately-evolved and vital musical entities that never feels forced, flashy or false.
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