ATHENS, Ga. -- Elf Power lead singer Andrew Reiger isn't the only
singer boasting about his band and its new album these days.
One of music's biggest personalities, most influential voices and
best-known rock musicians, Michael Stipe has been talking the band up to
the media and who knows where else. When you come from this town, as Elf
Power does, you can't get a better endorsement.
"It's nice to hear that they like what we're doing because we respect
their music, of course," the soft-spoken, casually-dressed Reiger, 26,
said between bites of tofu as he sat in The Grit, a Southern-style
vegetarian restaurant owned by R.E.M. singer Stipe.
The charismatic vocalist for R.E.M. grew out of the same Athens music
scene as Elf Power, whose fourth album, A Dream in Sound, shows
a continued evolution in the band's experimental pop sound.
A Dream in Sound has more in common with the '60s fuzz-toned
pop-rock of the Kinks or the polyphonic compositions of Beach Boys
mastermind Brian Wilson than it does with R.E.M.'s jangly guitar-rock.
In that way, Elf Power fits in comfortably with their fellow artists at
the Elephant 6 Recording Company.
More of a collective than an actual record label (although the name shows
up on many of the bands' albums), the Elephant 6 is a group of mostly
Athens-based musicians who share common musical and artistic interests.
It includes such critically acclaimed bands as Olivia Tremor Control,
the Apples in Stereo and Neutral Milk Hotel.
"I think we're all trying to make timeless music," Olivia Tremor Control
singer/guitarist Bill Doss said recently, describing the Elephant 6.
"Everybody [in the collective] is real supportive and wants to help,"
said Dottie Alexander, one of Reiger's roommates and multi-instrumentalist
for another Elephant 6-affiliate. "I can't imagine playing music in any
other kind of environment."
True to Elf Power's Elephant 6 connection, the eclectic A Dream in
Sound meshes the Appalachian folk leanings of Neutral Milk Hotel
with an unadulterated pop flair on vaguely psychedelic, hook-filled
overtures such as "Olde Tyme Waves"
(RealAudio excerpt) and "Jane." Elf Power's members -- Reiger, Laura
Carter, Bryan Helium and Aaron Wegelin -- met at the University of
Georgia in Athens. Their previous album, When the Red King Comes,
was a concept record that created a medieval fantasy world and set it to
a soundtrack of '60s-style psychedelic pop.
For A Dream in Sound, Reiger's band reaches for a slightly more
"When we wrote the group of songs for [When the Red King Comes],
it was with the concept in mind," Reiger said. "This time I decided not
to do that. It wasn't really going intentionally in the opposite
direction -- it just happened. I realized I had five or six songs and
there was no concept."
Reiger believes the lack of conceptual boundaries helped make the new
album more accessible than its predecessor.
"I think it made me a little more free to write about more real emotions,"
Reiger said. "Not that [Red King] songs weren't about real emotional
things, but they were through the guise of a story. Some of the songs on
this record, it's a little easier to tell what's being said. They're a
little more honest lyrically."
A Dream in Sound was recorded with producer Dave Friedman (Mercury
Rev, Flaming Lips) in the small town of Fredonia, N.Y., marking the first
time Elf Power has recorded in a real studio and with an outside producer.
"We'd always recorded at home before, although his studio's in a house,
so it didn't seem like a sterile environment by any means," Reiger said.
"We lived in the studio, which was out in the middle of nowhere in
upstate New York.
"[Friedman] had all these great instruments like slide guitars and all
these great old keyboards that we had never had a chance to use. So that,
combined with his knowledge and expertise, definitely put a different
stamp on it."
On tracks such as the atmospheric "Will My Feet Still Carry Me Home"
(RealAudio excerpt), the loping "Willowy Man"
(RealAudio excerpt) and the funereal dirge "Nobel Experiment," this stamp is evident, as improbable instruments (melodica, woodwinds, zanzithophone) float into the mix and the band incorporates them seamlessly into sturdy songs.
Unlike Red King, the new album doesn't deal with a cast of fictitious characters or an elaborate fantasy world. But Reiger is still confident that A Dream in Sound can be an escape from the dreariness of everyday life.
"If you're bored in a class or at your job, it's fun to create a little fantasy in your mind," Reiger said. "It's sometimes more exciting than the real world."