A few weeks ago, large posters in purple, pink, and orange hues began adorning the curved walls of London tube stations. They depicted a figure cautiously making its way across craggy rock formations, looking not unlike some of the tube commuters that passed in front of the artwork. Crafted by London-based illustrator Robert Frank Hunter, the posters served as a visual trumpeting that Elbow was returning to us with their new album Little Fictions.
We got our first glimpse of the Little Fictions in December last year with the release of the first single “Magnificent (She Says)”, which fittingly sits in the first track list spot. The track highlights so perfectly what Elbow have always managed to do since 2001’s Asleep In The Back, loading up songs with beautifully sculpted frequencies and layers while leaving plenty of space for everything to meld together, breathing as one. Lively strings sit wonderfully against solid piano chords, while frontman Guy Garvey’s gravely voice, always reminiscent of Peter Gabriel’s early works in the best possible way, reaches up like a pair of open arms, grabbing and holding triumphant notes as the song builds.
The last time we heard from Elbow was in July 2015, when the group released the Lost Worker Bee EP, something the band released to tide fans over while they completed various solo works and other efforts. Lost Worker Bee felt a bit more “band” oriented in ways, a bit more straight ahead “rock” than some of Elbow’s more swooning special material. Fans of Lost Worker Bee might find themselves drawn to songs like “Gentle Storm” and “All Disco”, but may sadly find less of an upfront presence from guitarist Mark Potter in comparison. It feels rather, that a good majority of the record carries echoes from Garvey’s October 2015 solo excursion, Courting The Squall, with solo tracks like “Unwind” and the titular “Courting The Squall” giving us a foreshadowing of the minimal-yet-lush soundscapes that feature so prominently on Little Fictions, which is also the first record since drummer Richard Jupp parted ways with the group to further focus on his drumming school.
So much of this record is wonderfully moody, as if seemingly composed to be the soundtrack for the small moments that quietly pass us by with a whimper rather than a shout. The standout track for me on Little Fictions is “Head For Supplies”. The song feels immediately like dusk in summer with a sky painted in similar shades to the album’s art, looking out over a city from a higher vantage point as you feel the infinite possibilities of an evening folding out in front of you. There’s gently contrasting feelings of uncertain fragility and comforting calm that seem to work in tandem to freeze you pleasingly in time.
Garvey’s voice is beautifully entrancing, something akin to a parental voice reading you a childhood story, which has been something the band has seemed to understand since their formation in Manchester in the mid-90’s, always allowing it plenty of space and presence in their songwriting. This is showcased best on “Kindling” and another personal favourite “Montparnasse”, which showcases as well Garvey’s expressive deftness as a writer. “Don’t talk like we’re stuck in a lift/Why would I be missing you so violently/We’re all the hero when directing the scene/But therapy for liars is a giant ice cream” is my favourite passage off the whole record.
This isn’t to say the whole record exists in a soft minimal stasis; there is definitely some movement here. The aptly named “Gentle Storm” kicks off with dancing percussion and a vaguely slowed-down 4-to-the-floor drum track/ “K2” has a bubbling jazzy swing to it, and at over 8 minutes long, the title track “Little Fictions” feels almost experimental with it’s odd chord choices and off-kilter rhythms working against a tapestry of reversed and swirling strings.
It’s honestly a bit difficult to pick out a particular weak spot on the record, mainly because it all works so well as a fully imagined work. That could, in a sense, be the one weakness Little Fictions has. It sits in such a particular space, it might be the kind of album you’d have to be “in the mood” for, as it does really merit a full playing through once it starts, which in the big picture is about the best flaw any album can have.
Albums like Little Fictions are made to be experienced in their fullest, which is easy to do when you have the best equipment at your disposal. Swing by your nearest Richer Sounds and let us help you get the most out of your most cherished records.
Author: Colin, Chiswick store