Elephant Memoirs (the gag here being that Elephants can’t write…) are a three-piece indie rock collective from Gateshead, UK consisting of John Aspinall (guitar, vocals), Carl Aspinall (bass) and Barry Drew (drums), and I’m here to examine their collection of tracks they have named Demo with a great and ferocious scrutiny. Minimalism, incidentally, is what these guys seem to go for in their indie rock, as if they’ve taken some massively overproduced, brash rock anthem written “for the kids” and stripped it back to bare bones and vital organs and said “This is all you get, anything else is a luxury”. Which is fair, it’s definitely lacking in grandeur as a matter of choice as opposed to an absence of ability. So without further ado, let’s get stuck into the tracks…
The opening track ‘Dirt’ flourishes with an immersive and very pretty guitar piece which sets the intensity of the track perfectly. As soon as the first verse and the vocals follow, echoes of Arctic Monkeys waft through my mind. The track has a simple structure but with detail in each bar, a distorted bass lays down the primary melody while a tremolo guitar dances across it. The drums have kept their brash rock n’ roll savagery and thunder underneath it all. It’s abstract and it’s proud of it, it marches forward with a silent determination in an XX kind of way.
‘Aim For The Faith’, the second track in the collection, finds it hard to diversify from the cheery opening riff for the best part of the first minute, and I feel that it could be broken up a little more. It sounds jarring and staccato as it progresses through the verses and subsequent choruses, which, as I mentioned before, is definitely a stylistic choice made by the composer. The chorus seems to open up a little and is by far the more memorable section of the track, whilst still maintaining the vulnerability suggested by gaps left between bars.
The third track we are listening to today, ladies and gentlemen, is called ‘Hercules’ and it starts almost with the promise of a slightly heavier track. It trudges on with a slightly understated anguish. These guys are fans of palm-muting, it’s littered all over the guitar track. Slightly over-enthusiastic drum fills imply the introduction of a second guitar to the following section to open up the sound a little bit, but no such addition is made resulting in a rollercoaster effect, darting between excitement, melancholy and determined continuity, much like the timeline of life itself.
‘Champion Of The Universe’, the final track on this aural adventure Elephant Memoirs have taken us on, is an eclectic employment of upbeat and enthusiastic vocals which, isolated, sounds like they should be backed up by a much more up-tempo accompaniment, perhaps testament to the subject of the song. It sounds like an anthem of naïve idealism which has the undercurrent of something much more sinister afoot, whilst still managing to maintain the same exposed fragility painted by the occasional lone guitar strokes.
For me, the whole thing is almost frustratingly held back, restrained with a fleeting hope of something more over the hill which never seems to arrive. Less is definitely more for these guys, however, almost as if the silence they seem to constantly skate alongside is the defining ingredient to their musical cake – they use it as an instrument in itself.
Elephant Memoirs have recently had some radio spots on local stations and gigs in small venues around the Newcastle area playing opening slots, which is great. The thing about this, however, is that these demos SOUND like a first-support band, if they’re using them in their live set; it’s the sound you’d expect when you first walk into a small music venue gig. They’ve got the minimalist, shoegaze theme sorted but they need to spice up their compositions in order to shake that ‘first band on’ sound.
Words by Matt Gibbons