Between its eponymous debut EP and its new CD Home, Rosendale’s Living with Elephants evolved from the alias of a singer/songwriter into a stable five-piece ensemble with a coherent vibe and concept. What hasn’t changed is the dynamic range that best serves Amy Poux’s delicate, piano-based chamber-soul songs: narrow and intimate, zero to three on a scale of ten. The band cruises comfortably in a single, versatile gear, purring through subtle variations in texture, detail and feel without spikes, grand arcs or disruptions of any kind. Sublimated gospel, Latin, soul and pop grooves are scaled to the muted and acute spaces of Poux’s songs. It is the great rainbow of hush.
But Living with Elephants finds plenty of lift and musical wit within the strict dynamic rules that they abide, so fear not monotony. If there is a samey-ness to it, it is a samey-ness of the desirable kind – the enveloping kind, the feeling that you have entered all 360 degrees of someone’s intimate world. The default grooves and tempos, actually, lean toward the snappy. A light buoyancy and a playful hop, more than the ambiance and swirl you might expect, support Poux’s whispery melodicism and the reflective arts of her lyrics.
So it is a paradoxical record, atmospheric but without the traditional tools of atmosphere, strictly low key but, song after song, inarguably jaunty as well. For this paradox, much of the credit goes to violinist Jerusha Kellerhouse and how she conceives her role. Resisting the ever-present temptation to pad, smooth and smear with strings, Kellerhouse goes percussive with her parts, getting down with the rhythm section of bassist Rob Norris and drummer Chris Anderson. It is Kellerhouse’s bouncy, groove-attentive bow work that accounts for much of the band’s distinctive, skipping-stone feel.
Living with Elephants commit to a live aesthetic and a coherent band identity on Home. Overdubs are few. Vocal harmonies are independent two-voice, not stacked, often coming in sweet call-and-response exchanges between Poux and background vocalist Marianne Tasick, as on one of the album’s real pop highlights, “Crystal Chandelier.” Two of Poux’s finest songs bookend the record: “Soon” and “Home,” one a gospel-inflected 6/8 piano ballad with a subtle herky-jerk in its feel and exquisite low harmonies from Tasick, the other a dark, legato art song and perhaps the only truly moody moment on a CD that everyone is going to describe as “moody.” Go figure.
On Saturday, May 3, Living with Elephants celebrate the release of Home with a performance at Unison Arts Center in New Paltz, a space positively built for this kind of sound.
Living with Elephants CD Release Party, Saturday, May 3, 8 p.m., $15, Unison Arts Center, 68 Mountain Rest Road, New Paltz, https://livingwithelephants.bandcamp.com.