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Elbow Flying Dream 1

11-22-2021 | By Michael Mercer | Issue 118

Elbow, Flying Dream 1

Consistency and critical acclaim are the banes of an artist's existence. Countless bands have made this unfortunate discovery throughout millennia. Release a hit single your first time out, or, God forbid, an entire album that's embraced by the critics and the record-buying masses, and it feels almost impossible to meet expectations from that point on. Terms like "sophomore jinx" came into existence for a reason. Delivering music with that scope of critical and commercial impact over the span of an artist's career is a true rarity, especially in these days of instant bot-made TikTok stardom. Unfortunately, however seemingly impossible and lofty those goals may be, there is another brand of consistency that is even harder to achieve, and perhaps far more important when it comes to art: The ability to consistently create and release quality content (though, as we all know, the notion of "quality" is in the ear of the beholder). Elbow is one of those magical rarities. Somehow Guy Garvey and his musical mates have managed to build a formidably robust catalog of poignant, soulful, and timeless music. Thankfully Flying Dream 1, their latest album is no exception. 

The LP is lyrically rich, poetic, and chock full of tender melodic beauty. Its musical landscapes are equal parts light, dark, and silky smooth without sounding contrite or pretentious.  "Is It a Bird," a wistful ballad, is a perfect example of Elbow's ability to paint wide-open beautiful, intricate images with their honed craft of thrift in their words and phrasing. With verses like "is it a jettisoned, beautiful warrior soul" hovering over airy percussion, minimal ethereal piano strikes, and Garvey's seasoned, Peter Gabriel-like vocals, how could this track be anything but gorgeous. "Six Words" is just as velvety and serene, composed around Garvey's soulful lyrical delivery and dreamy, spacious piano. Then Elbow drops their signature sparse, yet hard-hitting percussive elements and textures. The steadily mellow ebb and flow of the chorus is reminiscent of "The Bones of You," a track off their multi-platinum selling The Seldom Seen Kid LP, a masterpiece in its own right. 

Another sonic attribute that Elbow possesses? They know when to switch things up, but not so much that focus and pacing are compromised. Like in previous albums: Just as the sound's about to reach a sort of sameness in its sound; a level of monotony that could possibly lead to boredom (while still managing to sound gorgeous—a difficult trick to pull off) the transient slap of the pluck of the bass in "Calm and Happy" against a darkly quiet background provides a momentary breather, and then it all snaps back into a cottony textured and breezy sound that's a sonic thread throughout Flying Dream 1. This is the sound of an early morning after a late-night out with old friends you haven't seen in a long time. The friends that knew you before you knew yourself, that leave you with a sense of belonging and love that's too often fleeting. It's a sound that's both morose and beautiful. Like the silky, twilight-like melodic flow of "The Only Road," and the astral cascading piano and floaty strings of "The Seldom Seen Kid" (which, coincidentally shares the title of their critically acclaimed fourth album). The songs sound like tracks you'd hear during a road trip scene of a heart-warming dramatic movie, where the protagonist is having a breakthrough as they traverse a gorgeous and inspiring landscape; the kind of flick that gives you that cozy feeling of familiarity and home. The sound is sparse and introspective, yet warm and inviting,

Music weaves itself in and out of the fabric of our lives. As those musical threads continually grow and change alongside our experiences, thoughts, and dreams, we formulate our own soundtracks over time. With this evolution we find that different records are great for different occasions. We all have our favorite albums for road trips, work-outs, relaxing, and date nights. Though some records call so much attention to themselves that they don't really lend themselves to certain situations. These albums are their own journeys, and they are meant to be experienced as the focus of our attention rather than an accompaniment to something else we're engaged in. Those records (usually concept albums) are to be treasured for sure, and there's a time and place for that type of commitment and dedicated listening. However, creating an album that's great for almost any occasion? An album that works as the centerpiece or an accompaniment? Now there lies a real challenge. Flying Dream 1 is that record. It's the perfect musical companion to an afternoon walk, catching a sunset or sunrise, a romantic night out, or a road trip. Whether that road leads you home or to a wholly new destination, it lends itself beautifully to those experiences because it sounds like all of them without infringing itself upon them, if that makes any sense at all. It's a gorgeous record of self-discovery and reflection; of love, loss, the sweet and the bitterness of a full life. It's the perfect album for winding down after a long day battling the rat race. So hurry up, pour a glass of your favorite red wine, kick back and drop the needle on this LP. You won't regret it. Highly recommended.