release date 9.18.22
Brilliant new instrumental fork-bending from the always amazing Elkhorn, presented here in a quartet setting I had not heard before. The basic band remains Drew Gardner on electric guitar and Jesse Sheppard on acoustic, but as often seems to happen with these guys, there are a couple more faces in the studio. This time it's two drummers. One is Ian McColm, a Virginia tub monster who has played in many excellent situations, including a 2012 Feeding Tube duo cassette with Daniel Bachman (FTRCS107). The other drummer is DC-based Nate Scheible who does his own records and has also worked with everyone from Mark McGuire to Matt Wascovich. The wide foundational base these two provide allows Drew and Jesse to climb higher than they have ever dared before.
By shifting the basic conceptual thrust closer to rock-qua-rock, this formation is capable of psyching-out with pure guitar force. The Ouroboran elements of open-form improvisation-based music really gel when the snakes are encouraged to eat their own tails. The drumming adds shimmer to the acoustic passages, and power distensions to the electric ones. Holding the strings accountable to forces of rhythm forces both the note and chord lines to twist in ways they otherwise mightn't. It's like the percussion challenges the guitars to not get too comfortable with a groove. Be prepared, fellas. Anything could happen.
That said, Distances is a beautiful-sounding record. The core of Elkhorn has always known how to get to a real special musical spot, where acid flash meets acoustic burn. I'm just saying, the drums take this sound even deeper. You will get a lot of spins out of this one. Or I'll eat my hat.
- Byron Coley
release date 4.7.23
Elkhorn has long traversed the valleys between fried cosmic psychedelia and American Primitive, particularly the latter style’s reverence to a wide range of folk and blues idioms. While previous Elkhorn albums have confidently reconciled these influences, splitting the difference between Popol Vuh’s devotional drift and the outer reaches of deep-cut classic rock while constantly keeping one foot in the river of the Ever-Weird America, On The Whole Universe In All Directions (recorded in the band’s home studio just as the world was emerging from the pandemic shut-down) distills the Elkhorn sound into something as revelatory as it is unexpected. Each of the four extended pieces on On The Whole Universe In All Directions (the title is derived from the work of 13th century Japanese Soto Zen poet Dōgen) are named for a point on the compass, a subtle but appropriate nod to the notion of ground coverage. The dialogue between Drew Gardner’s cascading cave-echo vibraphone and pulsing drums and Jesse Sheppard’s intricate spiderwebs of 12-string guitar creates a dynamic force that is more than the sum of its parts. The near-monastic confidence required to forsake easy psychedelic signifiers for something more capacious and minimalist is a testament to both Elkhorn’s imagination and the group’s refreshing instinct to declutter. The resulting music evokes Bobby Hutcherson and Jack DeJohnette covering Led Zeppelin III, or perhaps Robbie Basho’s “Cathedral Et Fleur De Lis” if it had been recorded for ECM.
- James Toth