Elsinore LPs have a way of being long-awaited by the time they arrive, yet already familiar to fans of the Champaign, Ill.-based psych-pop band. Between their regular local shows and frequent EP releases, many featuring similar pieces, remixes and tweaked songs, it can be difficult to determine just how large the band’s discography really is.
Take their four-song Life Inside an Elephant EP, released more than two years ago in August of 2011, with its title track and “chamber mixes” of “The Thermostat, the Telephone” and “Ultraviolence.” All of that EP’s content appears again on Push/Pull, Elsinore’s most recent release on their longtime label Parasol Records, transformed by constant repetition and revision. The growth is appreciable, but it is easy to imagine some fans longing for more mystery in a new full-length album. It begs the question of what is more valuable, dedicated revision or experimental novelty?
As a final product, Push/Pull still sounds distinctly like Elsinore, which is to say it’s a bit dualistic in tone. A handful of the tracks display the bouncy (although not so psychedelic) energy that has kept the group hovering on the periphery of national indie-rock consciousness, with trademark spacey keys and power guitar in full effect. And then there’s the other Elsinore, as in the languid, dream-like “Sinister Sister” or “New England,” identifiable as the same band only because lead vocalist Ryan Groff’s uniquely high-pitched but mellifluous voice is hard to mistake. They’re understandable artistic explorations, but not the kind of thing that makes rock club audiences scream and applaud.
Thankfully, there’s plenty of the latter on Push/Pull as well. “The Art of Pulling” is an obvious lead single, and buoyed by huge guitars and an exultant chorus, it’s as catchy as any of Elsinore’s best singles, such as 2010’s “Chemicals.” It also contains the first of the album’s persistent bits of cardiac imagery, which reappear on nearly every track in a mirror image of the anatomically correct album art. The heart references are surprisingly literal at times, as in “The Thermostat, The Telephone,” where it is described (accurately) as “a pumping machine in your chest.” Tough to fault them on that one.
Elsinore is at its best when it embraces its sonically ambitious and aggressive side, as it does in tracks like “Fatal Flaw” and this version of “Life Inside an Elephant.” They seem to have retained the youthful voice of college students at the University of Illinois while simultaneously acknowledging the encroaching responsibilities of mundane adulthood, something perfectly encapsulated in the final track “Mislocation” when Groff sings “So many seeds of the 1980s/ Have grown into gardens.”
Those are without a doubt the words of an indie-rock father, one who has struck a balance between music and family. It calls into question whether Elsinore will ever truly “arrive” on a national scale, but if they continue to produce songs like “The Art of Pulling” on every record, fans will probably remain satisfied.