Jesse D. Leach is the vocalist of Killswitch Engage, Times of Grace and The Empire Shall Fall. He has visited every continent except Antarctica. He is a lover of good music, good food, especially pizza, and good, down-to-earth people. You can follow him on Twitter here and Killswitch Engage here.
I just landed from a 23-hour day of travel from Russia to Capetown, South Africa, and I am exhausted and elated! I’ve downloaded the new Elbow record The Take Off and Landing of Everything and begin my first listen as I sit on Camps Bay Beach, surrounded by mountains and the vast horizon line. From the moment Guy Garvey sings his first few notes, I am captivated. All of the chaos of being on tour fades into the background and, suddenly, I am all ears.
I had heard this band by name before, but never took the time to check them out. After about 20 listens to this record in the past few days, I realize I should have seriously reconsidered that decision much earlier.
This album is brilliant from start to finish! It feels like opening a book that you can’t put down, and each chapter draws you deeper in. The musicianship and the tones of this record are natural and balanced. The lyrics and musical nuances are witty and thought out, but feel seemingly effortless. The bass tone is warm and smooth, as is much of the other instrumentation. The music goes from quiet elegance to soaring, lush triumph. The horns and strings are tasteful and don’t overpower the notion of five guys playing music.
This album is so much more than “indie-rock.” This is “thinking person’s music,” composed, elaborate and deliberate… not something you put on and ignore, or listen to half-heartedly as some sort of background party ambiance.
The first track to really hit me between the eyes was “New York Morning,” which feels like a song Peter Gabriel would have written on his best day. The layered melodies at the end gave me chills the first time I heard it, and I love how he refers to New York as being a modern version of ancient Rome. As someone who spends a good deal of time there, this analogy makes perfect sense. He captures a moment and paints a picture of a day in New York with this song. The last lines, when the music fades out, are brilliant: “In a modern Rome/where folk are nice to Yoko.”
“Colour Fields” is another track that stands out stylistically, with electronic drums and a very Joy Division-like pulse. Garvey’s wordplay leaves you anxious as his phrasing pushes and pulls the line “Bright girl, dead sound/Open miles for miles around.” He has such an interesting approach to vocal melodies and lyrics overall, but this one in particular paints a picture in your mind: “Where color field meets canvas and the picture breathes you in/Where all the stories meant for you have already started.” Harvey uses imagery such as a picture that “breathes you in” to draw you into the abstract story being told. “Colour Fields” is pretty simple as far as the songwriting and arrangement, including fairly lo-fi drums. But the simplicity makes you focus more on the lyrics, and there is so much movement between the music and the vocals that the simplicity actually becomes complex. It would be easy to take this for granted on an initial listen, which once again makes it brilliant because it is so listenable while maintaining its abstractness.
“My Sad Captains” is a soul song drenched in melancholy and earnestness. As a musician who travels more than I am home, I really felt the lines “Another sunrise with my sad captains/With who I choose to lose my mind/and if it’s all/we only pass this way but once/What a perfect waste of time.” The lyrics remind me of looking out the tour bus window, watching the sunrise on a sleepless morning. Sonically, it feels sad but triumphant somehow, which is emotionally perplexing in a very good way! Great use of horns and organ on this song, pulling the song, a sad anthem, upwards.
The fact that the majority of the songs clock in at over five minutes would usually deter me, but I didn’t even notice this fact until I looked at the run times. An album like this gives me hope for new music. I almost wanted to find a song or something else that I didn’t like about this record, as I desperately wanted to be able to give some “fair balance” to my thoughts about it. But I am now a full-fledged fan and have nothing but praise to give.
It’s easy to get into a routine of listening to the tried-and-true records that keep you comfortable, and I am quite guilty of this. However, after hearing The Take Off and Landing of Everything, I realize I need to expand my musical horizons. (The last band that did this to me was the National.) When all is said and done, this album is amazing, a true work of art. Elbow is at the top of their game. Granted, I have never heard anything else by this band, but if this is an indication of where they are, I’m certain I’ll enjoy their back catalogue. Well done, gents!