self released, 2010, CD album, 30m 24s
Shoegaze and dreampop are genres that, because they are so sonically mediated, offer artists an opportunity to work in a way that is conceptually or semantically layered without seeming inaccessible. Because they offer an established language which is both amenable to manipulation, and widely understood, they lend themselves to very individual statements that are stylistically located without being generic. In other words, they are suitable venues for musical artists seeking to combine a serious, even experimental creative agenda with a pop sensibility.
This is the part of the musical world where sound passes so far into the incoherence of distortion that its harshness is transformed into softness: there is a softness on the surface of these songs, but there is far more challenging content within them than a simple pastoral mellowness. This is sad, sometimes desolate material, that avoids being dark, not so much because the listener is offered a lyrical out, as because the music never lets you forget that life continues, and sadness is part of a bigger picture.
ELIKA use production and tone shaping techniques that are pretty well established, and although the uses to which they put them are far from unprecedented, they apply them very precisely to their own creative ends. The thick wash of floaty ambience that characterises both the genres I mention above is used as an expressive element, rather than a continuous, defining colour. It almost joins the ‘I’ of the lyrics as a character in the drama of Snuggle Bunnies, sometimes running alongside the main thrust of the songs, sometimes bridging them, offering atmospheres that are sometimes ominous or disruptive, but more often warm and enveloping.
These songs embody emotional pain, which is held up for our examination through an anaesthetic buffer of sonic insulation, which acts like a handful of aural diazepam. There’s no anxiety or nervousness in this music: even when Evagelia Maravelias sings ‘oh I feel afraid/ that you’re leaving’, the soundscape tells us that she is so numb with pain that she can barely feel it.
The arrangements combine relatively organic elements with hard-edged, mechanistic ones, and softly billowing atmospheres with driving kinesis, in a way that makes you want to lie down and dance at the same time. Every sound is well considered, each parameter precisely tweaked, in a way that is never generically gestural: vocals can seem relatively present one moment, unreachably distant the next; a role that is played by Brian Wenckebach’s guitar in one song may be taken by a synth in the next; the programmed percussion is always angular, but never contradicts the depth of the ambience; and while nothing ever jars, the album is pretty much unpredictable moment to moment.
Compositionally, ELIKA have an ear for a mournfully hooky melody, and while they break no boundaries harmonically, they know just when a chord sequence needs to turn a corner, or imply another key. More importantly, they know how to craft a whole sequence of songs around a coherent emotional narrative, using lyric and melody as flip sides of a single current of meaning. This is a very enjoyable album, and about as radically creative as it’s possible to be while fully embracing the category of ‘pop’.