Independent release, 2010
REVIEW BY: Melanie Love
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/21/2011
The easiest way to get me to review an album is to say it sounds like Neutral Milk Hotel. They're my indie touchstone, the apex of craftsmanship, lyricism, and conceptualism. So though it turns out that Connecticut-based group Elison Jackson, formed in late 2009 (and named after a 1960's fisherman who drowned at sea), doesn't exactly evoke the Neutral Milk claim, it's all good because they've got a sound quite their own.
This album, their debut, was recorded in a two day stretch in remote Connecticut, and the band regularly rehearses in the loft of a church, which definitely shows up in their spare yet rich tunes. From the first breath of frontman Sam Jackson Perduta's vocals on "Unchained Like A Bird," I heard Will Sheff of Okkervil River in Perduta's deep, honeyed vocals, so full of feeling as he savors every word. And the perfectly chosen details only bolster those similarities; a lone armchair in the corner is described as "collecting dust where you once wept and moaned / Postman brings no tender thoughts to me," intermixing with the carefully plucked acoustic guitar. It's an unassuming, quiet entry into a similarly understated album, where the rooms and corridors of each song unfold in stunning detail.
Each cut finds Elison Jackson cultivating their sound as a group, so that similarities to Okkervil, The Decemberists, or Bon Iver seem like a stepping-stone to hashing out their individual aims as a band. But for now, the overlaps are enjoyable without becoming distracting. My only qualm with the album is that - amid all the beauty of tracks like the sweeping "Anchorless Port" and the tensely gorgeous buildup and crystallized harmonies of "Silver Lake" - there could be more cohesion, stronger threads tying each song to the greater whole. For an album recorded in one burst, I suppose I expected more of, say, the lovelorn chilliness that permeated every moment of Bon Iver's debut or the operatic unity of Okkervil River's concept albums.
Still, there are some incredible moments here, particularly for a band so newly formed that is ostensibly still carving out its footing. The wordplay, raw guitars, and moody darkness of "All Is Over" could easily find its place on alternative radio, and it's so clear in songs like these that a lot of heart and soul went into crafting this material. Both dreamy and sometimes (delightfully) creepy in their imagery, there is much to explore on this disc, and though the band is often restrained and modest in their instrumentation, the sheer swelling of feeling can't be tempered. Full of twists and turns, of rising and catharsis, Elison Jackson is worth checking out, and I for one can't wait to see where they might head on subsequent material.