Elf Power

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Indie rock veterans Elf Power were one of the most celebrated bands that emerged from the Elephant 6 Recording Company collective, along with Neutral Milk Hotel, the Apples in Stereo, and Olivia Tremor Control. Like their fellows in the Athens, Georgia musical community, Elf Power embraced a style that encompassed off-kilter psychedelic pop, lo-fi sonics, and the edgy but playful outlook of founders Andrew Rieger and Laura Carter. After some promising early efforts, the band first hit their stride in the studio with 1999′s A Dream in Sound. With 2008′s Dark Developments, the band collaborated with Georgia songwriter Vic Chesnutt for a session that brought out the best in all participants. 2022′s Artificial Countrysides was an unusually political work, with the melodies buffering a dour look at a world in chaos.
Elf Power formed in Athens in 1994 as a recording project led by Andrew Rieger. He had been writing songs with a bent, trippy tone and was documenting them on a four-track cassette deck, using the buzzy, lo-fi sound of his makeshift recordings to boost their primitive charm. Rieger handled all the instruments himself, except for occasional contributions from his friends Laura Carter, Eric Ledford, and Raleigh Hatfield. After circulating a pair of cassette-only releases, Rieger had committed enough songs to tape that he pressed up an LP so he could share them with his friends. Featuring 15 original songs and covers by the Dwarves and Robyn Hitchcock, Vainly Clutching at Phantom Limbs was issued on his own Drug Racer label, and with an album that suggested Elf Power were a real band, Rieger assembled a version of it to play live, with Rieger on guitar and vocals, Laura Carter on keyboards and musical toys, Bryan Poole (aka the Late B.P. Helium) on bass, and Aaron Wegelin on drums. As the group became more confident, Rieger and Carter moved to New York City, releasing a five-song disc, The Winter Hawk EP, in 1996. They returned to Athens and began working on a second full-length album, and with a more focused attack and guest spots from like-minded Athens musicians (including Jeff Magnum of Neutral Milk Hotel and Kevin Barnes of Of Montreal), 1997′s When the Red King Comes was issued by the local Elephant 6 label, with distribution by the Portland-based indie Arena Rock Recording Co.
For their third album, Elf Power teamed up with producer Dave Fridmann, who had previously worked with Mercury Rev and the Flaming Lips, and A Dream in Sound was released in 1999 to enthusiastic reviews. For the band’s subsequent tour, violinist Adrian Finch joined the lineup, and before the year was out, they issued a seven-song EP, Come On, featuring covers of songs by T. Rex, Sonic Youth, and Robyn Hitchcock. As Elf Power became better known, Arena Rock Recording Co. reissued the rare Vainly Clutching at Phantom Limbs in an expanded edition. The group left Arena Rock to strike a deal with Sugar Free Records, who brought out the 2000 album The Winter Is Coming. They toured heavily in support, mixing headlining gigs with slots opening for R.E.M. and Wilco. By the time Creatures was released in 2002, Bryan Poole had left the band to work on solo projects, and Ballard Lesemann stepped in on bass; Adrian Finch also moved on. In 2002, Elf Power also delivered Nothing's Going to Happen, an album of cover tunes that included material from the Come On EP. The LP was issued by the Georgia-based Orange Twin label, as was 2004′s Walking with the Beggar Boys, a contemplative set that feature two new bandmates, Eric Harris (ex-Olivia Tremor Control) on guitar and Craig McQuiston (formerly with the Glands) on bass. Rieger dialed back on electric guitars in favor of a more acoustic approach on 2006′s Back to the Web, which was also the group’s first album for Rykodisc. The group continued to pursue a more grounded approach on 2008′s In a Cave, and returned to the Orange Twin label for another 2008 effort, Dark Developments, an LP made in collaboration with the celebrated songwriter Vic Chesnutt. It proved to be one of Chesnutt’s final projects; he died in December 2009, and the band’s self-titled 2010 album was dedicated to their late friend.
Elf Power’s 11th full-length album, 2013′s Sunlight on the Moon, harkened back to the spontaneous feel of their early years, recorded partly in a proper studio and partly in Rieger’s bedroom. Along with longtime members Rieger and Carter, the album included contributions from bassist James Huggins III and drummer Peter Alvanos. Huggins was unavailable for the recording of 2017′s Twitching in Time, and Bryan Poole returned for the recording sessions, with Dave Wrathgabar sitting in on guitar. Aaron Wegelin, who had played drums on Elf Power’s early albums, died on February 2, 2021, not long after he had come back to Georgia and was helping to complete a track the band had started writing and recording while he was still working with them. Elf Power signed with Yep Roc Records, and their first release for the label, the tuneful but edgy Artificial Countrysides, arrived in July 2022. In addition to Rieger, Carter, Wrathgabar, and Alvanos, Neil Golden contributed additional keyboards for the recordings. ~ Mark Deming