Instagram Soundcloud Spotify

To the Elephant 6 and Well Beyond – The Rishis “August Moon”

Written by:

Descriptions won’t always do it for you. Words you read regarding a band or artist, how they’re phrased and parsed and rearranged, no matter how passingly eloquent in their application, may not be enough to adequately prepare you for what ends up swimming through your ear ducts and into your hungering brain. Once there, roaming freely about and bouncing off the furniture and just essentially fucking up the feng shui that memory and experience have laid in place as if paving your own temple mount of music and what it means to you, you’re stuck contending with this new and unusual (and most often charismatic if not prismatic) house guest that has managed to slip past the expectations you have stationed like guards at the gates to keep this sort of thing from happening. Then what? Well, what else: surrender, which is exactly the stage this writer finds himself after finally finding time and space to engage with The Rishis’ August Moon. Allow me to elaborate.

This album arrived as part of a modest – if enthusiastically received – vinyl bundle somewhere back around it’s release date of April 21st (on Cloud Recordings), likely a month prior or so. While always busy just like any of us that was an especially crowded moment on my calendar and so it sat with others leaned up against the jumbled catchall that is our stereo cabinet. I did, however, take a moment to speed read the one-sheet to get a feel for what The Rishis experience was going to be. Select passages bled through: “newest band to proudly bear the Elephant 6 logo,” “moody rockers,” “intricate folk-pop record,” “lush arrangements.” Aside from being suitably intrigued – how could I not be? – I filed it away on my future listens list believing I had a solid handle on what I’d eventually hear. And I was right, except for the not inconsiderable fact that in large part I was wrong. There is so much more here than those words, accurate as they surely are, would lead one to anticipate. To a modest extent one might rightly attribute that jump beyond expectation to the collaborative contributions from a who’s who host of E6 alumni – eleven in all, including producer Chris Byron, check below for the full list – but at the end of the proverbial day it’s the duo at the heart of this beaut (Ranjan Avasthi and Sofie Lute) that brought the songs themselves to the process that we most heartily thank. Also? It doesn’t hurt, we reckon, that we begin on “Holiday.”

In gently lush surrounds – a soft if ringing acoustic, pedal steel sliding forth and back in simple bliss, a (no surprise) clarinet in the first break and the homey warmth that only it can bring – the opening track is effortlessly a-brim with the lope and pop love of the “E6 vibe, Rishis variant.” To say it’s a welcome arrival is understatement. To say they nail it, not. To further say the trip through pretty much unabated joy continues, well, goes without saying.

Immediately bolder, touched by a mote of melancholy, “Migrations” illumines resignation with a glow of hope, in lyric (“time doesn’t stand/slips through the cracks in your hand“), in arrangement, in vocal tone and, not least, in the doleful resilience a well-placed trumpet so often brings. It’s an early example of the balance of mood this album offers, underlining the reality that, regardless of its overarching reputation, joy, in real life, comes in many shades. Couple tracks later comes the lively lovely sylvan flow of “Seeds” that in its evocative sway brought to mind, for the first time in this writer’s life, the term ‘indie shanty’, which I’ve not much time to ponder before “Make Me Love You” comes sauntering into my ears, a country-kissed beauty complete with the classic cry of pedal steel, Sofie in the center of it all singing the hell out of the thing with just the right measure of amorous restraint, think Cowboy Junkies, maybe, with a somewhat softened k.d. lang at the mic in place of Margo. Speaking of restraint, the next-up “Wake Up” manages to merge the baroque with the pop intimate, a neat trick in anyone’s book and, it must be said, quite skillfully done, the result utterly captivating, which, down to the boldly meditative instrumental “Uttar Pradesh” that closes the record, a transfixing homage to Ranjan’s roots that haunts and mesmerizes and speaks in colors, is this record’s takeaway phrase if one is needed.

Whereas much of what you’ve just read regarding what you can expect to hear on August Moon rather exactly fits the template of that understated juggernaut that is/was the Elephant 6 collective, what’s wonderful about this record is how unerringly it inhabits its own niche. It’s not homage, it’s certainly not a slavish recreation but instead it’s own purring beast that, because of it’s simultaneous resemblance to and departure from that base template, lays claim to a unique, inimitable spot in that brilliant pop tradition. One’s inevitable reaction, in a word? We can only think of one: Bravo!

[personnel involved beyond those mentioned]

Scott Spillane (Neutral Milk Hotel)

John Kiran Fenades (Olivia Tremor Control)

Andrew Rieger (Elf Power)

James Huggins III (Of Montreal)

Andy Gonzalez (Marshmallow Coast)

Peter Alvanos (Sunshine Fix, Elf Power)

Lucy Calhoun (Black Swan Network)

Todd Kelly (Phosphorescent, Great Lakes)

Timi Conley (Wild Rumpus)

[get your August Moon here]