The Fall and Rise of John Elderkin and ¡Moonbeams No Mas!
The concept album has taken some knocks over the years for its pretentiousness and, as a form, fell out of favor long ago. John Elderkin obviously never got the memo. His album The Fall and Rise of John Elderkin and ¡Moonbeams No Mas! is a seventeen song platter reeking with ambition, but it’s also a highly musical exercise and never risks self indulgence despite its seeming inordinate length. Melody is what musically sustains much of the project, but there are tracks where it’s clear Elderkin is equally comfortable moving away from a melodic base into more atmospheric and suggestive musical landscapes. The narrative qualities of the song cycle are stronger than what those familiar with concept albums might be used to – Elderkin clearly entered the studio with a clear creative vision for what he wanted to achieve and that assurance emerges from the individual songs and the recording as a whole.
It begins with a brief FX and spoken word introduction entitled “News Came Over” before moving into the album’s first proper, traditionally structured song. “We Waited Five Years” references Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, a lynchpin for much of what’s going on with this album, It has a folky feel for much of its running time, but Elderkin can’t resist the temptation to mix things up with a slightly rough hewn second half and spoken word vocals. “Messy Down Below” has an old school rock and roll feel that sounds like a gloriously inspired garage band and it’s keyed by a thrillingly engaged Elderkin vocal. The production quality of this release seems, at first listen, to vary wildly, but a closer listen reveals this is by design. He’s clearly aiming for a garage band sort of ragged glory on this cut while paying inventive tribute to rock forms from bygone eras. “The Message” is the clearest example of Elderkin’s willingness to veer far away from following traditional routes and the keyboard driven piece is given a further feeling of mystery by the use of chanting voices deep in the mix.
“Don’t Look Right at the Sun” is a crunchy guitar workout that becomes particularly heated during its second half. The six string sound on this song has a remarkably visceral, biting quality and a warm tone that leaps out at listeners. It’s, likewise, another fine example of Elderkin’s lyrical facility. “You Got Sick” is a plaintive piano ballad with direct and articulate language and an especially deep feeling vocal from Elderkin that further illustrates his versatility. He goes in for a full scale surreal freak out on the unlikely titled track “Fat Levon on Acid”, but it oddly never sounds out of place with the remainder of the album. “Sore Afraid” is the last of the album’s unadorned gems and the vulnerability pulsing at the heart of this song is sure to disarm many listeners. The rich variety of The Fall and Rise of John Elderkin and ¡Moonbeams No Mas! has no clear antecedents and the resounding creativity fueling these compositions makes for a bracing listening experience.