Transportation is one of the biggest things that music can accomplish, to pick the listener up from where they sit and deposit them in some other place. The truly great albums in the short history of modern music all achieve this unbelievably elusive feat; something about their sound whisks away your attention and enraptures you within a world, of the band’s making. Not so long ago, we made the claim that Elder‘s Lore does just that, encapsulating the fabled trope of “the hero’s journey”, launching its listeners into an epic journey through music and expression. How do you follow something like that up? A critically lauded album can often be a double edged sword, raising immense questions around potential, scarcity, and circumstance. More so when the album is such a transformative journey: do you have what it takes to create that sensation in your listeners again or will this album, however good, be fettered and miss the mark of greatness?
How do you push forward and make an album to follow that up? Apparently, in Elder’s case, you release Reflections of a Floating World which is nothing else than an upgraded version of Lore. Considering the fact that Lore was already an immense album, that’s a mighty claim but one which we are wholeheartedly prepared to back up. You see, Reflections of a Floating World manages to take a step back from the greatness of Lore and look at the album with a critical art. Sure, of course, it was a magnificent album; but even in the most resplendent of artworks flaws can be found and its up to the master to fill in those little flaws to create something greater. In Lore‘s case, such flaws might have been the propensity to repeat certain backbone leads throughout the tracks and perhaps a slight lack of direction in the middle of the album.
Both of these issues have been completely banished on Reflections of a Floating World. Instead of relying so heavily on the leads, Elder have doubled down on the riff writing, muscular bridges between the expressive solos and more signature lead-work the band are famous for. “Blind” is perhaps the best example of this; its thick riffs provide the context and drive for the track, making it much greater than the numerous other sections found within it. That groove, the pulled chord at the end of the riff, the bass/drum break near its the last segment of its impressive thirteen minute run-time, are the basis on which the rest of the track and, indeed, the entire album are built. On top of these, the usual Elder layers are constructed: the psychedelic trappings of the outro, the evocative lead vocals, the expressive solos. All are there, just like we remember them, but solidified and uplifted by the forward-moving riff.
An emphasis on the trudging weight of low-end guitarwork is hardly new to Elder’s persona as a band: their sophomore album, Dead Roots Stirring, worked similarly, but this is far removed from that record’s bluesy stoner-sludge stylings. Instead, the melodies build on the quasi-celestial ground of Lore, using its light, airy expanses to contrast the chunky, groovy riffage constantly at work in the background. Make no mistake, though, Nick DiSalvo’s master-class guitar skills are as omnipresent as they’ve ever been; the man floats around his fretboard in both horizontal and vertical fashion with unparalleled ease. Matt Couto’s drumming provides a fantastic skeleton for Reflections of a Floating World, one to which bassist Jack Donovan easily adds musculature and flesh. Newcomer session musicians Michael Risberg and Michael Samos bring a new level of depth to the band’s established sound as well with their extra guitar and pedal steel capabilities.
Although no tracks reach the colossal 15+ minutes of Lore‘s title piece, the sonic odysseys here are still plenty long enough for the ideas within to be developed. Elder manages to nail both the improvisational jam feel of stoner rock and the practiced, placid ease that progressive rock maintains even at its most hectic, melding into an experience that stays languid even when another band would be stretched to its limits by the auditory pyrotechnics on display. This, perhaps, suggests more than anything at their greatest strength as a unit, a strength always noticeable on Reflections of a Floating World: each member has an incredible strength to always stay in stride with the others, always knowing exactly where they need to be for maximum potency. Nothing misses its mark here; nothing ever feels out of place or mishandled.
The power of Reflections of a Floating World lies in Elder’s ability to lay plans and consistently execute them to maximum effect. Lore saw the band experimenting far more than before with psychedelia and progressive rock, bringing a new mode of understanding the cross between oddity and homage that brought out the best in two different genres built on the monolithic worship of its primogenitors. This new outing sees them bringing the best of everything they’ve done before to the forefront of their sound, understanding their own past just as much as the past of their various genres. Fusing the future and past so fluidly, and synthesizing a sound entirely their own through it, Reflections of a Floating World sets a new standard for both originality and execution in the world of stoner music and, in the process, once again transports its listeners to a world wholly of Elder’s creation.
Reflections of a Floating World releases tomorrow, June 2nd, via Armageddon Label, and is already calling your name softly, leading you away.