The Take Off And Landing Of Everything


Concord Music Group, 2014

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Best-selling British quintet Elbow have described their music as “prog without the solos,” which seems fair enough. Their music is all about esthetic, rather than any sort of flash—complex in the sense that they eschew pop formula to travel wherever the song takes them, but their hallmark is an often-spare intensity rather than the instrumental excess for which prog is known. Elbow is refined, restrained, precise (and urgent). By way of musical reference points, to “prog without the solos,” I would add: Coldplay without the eagerness; Peter Gabriel without the flamboyance.

And indeed, it seems less than coincidental that the basic tracks for this album were recorded at Gabriel’s own Real World Studios before the band moved on to their own studio to finish up. There is a haunting, beguiling aspect to these songs, which rarely accelerate past second gear; it’s more post-rock than rock, but steadily rhythmic, with a measured sort of surge to it when the moment demands. The immensely complementary production courtesy of keyboardist Craig Potter reminds of Jeff Buckley’s Grace, with soft echoes burnishing every note to a kind of gauzy shimmer, as if the whole thing was recorded in an old church.

“This Blue World” introduces the album smartly with frontman Guy Garvey’s voice gently keening over the simplest of backings: a muted beat from drummer Richard Jupp with only the subtlest flourishes from bassist Pete Turner, guitarist Mark Potter, and keyboardist Craig Potter decorating a hypnotic narrative. Over the course of the track’s seven minutes, the arrangement builds in an unhurried way, gaining elements, gaining power, gaining beauty.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Sophomore track “Charge” is a deeply satisfying concoction with a thrumming organ figure at its core, accented by strings and soft, chunky, percussive guitar chords. These rhythm tracks pulse rather than pound, just the right accompaniment for a set of songs about love and loss and longing. “Fly Boy Blue / Lunette” adds another degree of intensity, with a weighty orchestral arrangement supporting a sturdy backbeat. Vocalist Garvey possesses a quiet charisma, his steady intensity convincing you over and over that he’s just about to say something really interesting—again—and you don’t want to miss it. The tension in Turner’s bass line in the latter part of this cut is tremendous.

The first single off the album, “New York Morning” is ringing, engaging, and downright lovely, anchored by a simple, rhythmically repeating piano figure. The key line “Everybody owns the great ideas” is emphasized by the quietness of the music around it the first time, and cradled by its lift the second. The final stanza of the superb lyric opens with this poignant, richly alliterative triplet: “The way the day begins / Decides the shade of everything / But the way it ends depends on if you’re home.”

The memorable lines keep coming as Garvey assures his lover that “You never need fear a thing in this world / While I have a breath in me, blood in my veins” (“Real Life (Angel)”). (Now that’s devotion.) Then things turn south and he declares “I cannot stay where all the broken plans were made” and departs, declaring that “I’ll spin some lies to tell you upon / My return from the ends of the earth.” All the while the band thrums and chimes around him, piano and guitar functioning almost as rhythm instruments.

Melancholy has rarely sounded prettier than on “My Sad Captains,” as Garvey sings of dissolution and “a perfect waste of time” while the horn section offers stately accents. The title track has an especially cinematic feel, with the title repeated over and over towards the end as the song achieves liftoff, a repeating keyboard figure, circular melody and lush vocal arrangement fueling its ascendance. “The Blanket Of Night” is a rather strange and playful closer, carrying a bit of almost theatrical flavor to it before its abrupt finish.

The Take Off And Landing Of Everything lives up to its overcomplicated title, delivering 57 minutes of yearning, enchanting and generally lovely music, with Garvey’s Gabrielesque vocals up front and the band offering restrained but evocative accompaniment, rich with texture and mood. Some albums get your attention by shouting at you; Take Off takes the opposite tack, delivering a murmured invocation that nonetheless captivates, music to be savored rather than wolfed down and forgotten.

Rating: A-

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© 2014 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Concord Music Group, and is used for informational purposes only.