Pop music seems to be most fulfilling when it is able to convey the gravity of human desire and disappointment; if youthful confusion and self-doubt are a part of it, so much the better.
But few bands in recent years have been able to articulate this torrent of emotions with any sort of genuine sensitivity. Rather, we've endured a decade and a half's worth of sullen indie rock, whiney emo, and clumsy nu-metal. Even as an exhilarating new music scene unfolded in New York, one which seemed to draw on decidedly more complex and sophisticated influences, there was a gaping hole of bands that relied more on grace than abrasiveness.
Then, in the fall of 2001, amidst all the hype and fanfare in New York, Argentine singer Diego Garcia allied himself with drummer Kevin McAdams and a guitarist that simply goes by the name Mod, and just such a band, Elefant, was born. Bassist Jeff Berrall was enlisted shortly after, and the lineup was completed.
Certain fashionable post-punk influences clearly seemed to inform their music. But Elefant were a band apart from their New York comrades, many of whom were mining much more morose musical territory and flirting with anarchic imagery. Elefant, rather, were melancholy but romantic, dark but seductive.
"After college, I found myself living on the Lower East Side," recalls Garcia of the period of time that would set the often forlorn tone of their music, "with nobody really there for me. And New York City can be beautiful, but it can also really beat the shit out of you."
Such trying times paid off, of course. Elefant caused enough of a stir to get signed to hip indie label Kemado; their debut EP, tellingly titled Gallery Girl, exhibited a sound that was stark and raw, and brimming with youthful anxiousness.
Elefant followed with their debut full-length, Sunlight Makes Me Paranoid, which was released to almost universal critical acclaim (Rolling Stone called it "A great album"), and went on to sell more than 30,000 copies. The album possesses an underlying sexual tension while the music is subtle and fragile. And thoug Elefant's music possesses a singular spirit, their sound, curiously enough, takes cues from the important bands of twenty -- thirty previous, those whose creative zenith occurred before the members of Elefant were even born. The mournful pop of The Smiths, the jagged grooves of early New Order, the rawness of Iggy Pop-the record clearly paid musical homage to such greats without resorting to blatant tribute.
Garcia recalls, "When I was fifteen, I picked up that Velvet Underground box set. There you are in your most formative years, your brain is like a sponge. You've got these five CDs-and Lou Reed is just one of the most amazing songwriters, every word counted. You can't help but just get completely messed up by listening to it."
Even though Garcia's voice is more an instrument of drama than angst, his vocals come off equally lovelorn and self-possessed, and world-weary, but far too urgent to be accused of being jaded. Confessional lyrics like, "You want to slowly fade away, but you can't, so you stay, with me," spoke of the sort of human desperation usually associated with grand literary dramas.
But Elefant are anything but lofty. Instead, the lyrical themes on Sunlight Makes Me Paranoid were the result of Garcia's considerable growing pains.
"I really was growing when I was writing those songs," Garcia recalls. "I was definitely in that transition from being young and really innocent, to realizing that life isn't so easy. You're learning how to deal with so many things; and that's what that record addresses. I wrote those songs with nothing in mind but trying to be true to myself."
Still, it's Garcia's anguished tales of romantic loss and confusion, best exemplified by such tormented pop gems as "Now That I Miss Her" and "Tonight Let's Dance," that give the record such remarkable visceral range and depth. Sunlight Makes Me Paranoid is, above all, about the many trials and tribulations of the heart.
"It's ten pop songs about love," says Garcia. "Who doesn't relate to that???"
Adding, "I guess I'm just a romantic guy."
Hollywood Records will re-release Sunlight Makes Me Paranoid on October 26, just as the members of Elefant are readying themselves to embrace a bigger, ever more devoted audience. There's little question that their music has the ability to engage and captivate much more than just an audience of downtown hipsters, and Garcia, who insists he's actually been "overwhelmed by the reaction to the record," certainly possesses a distinct star quality. Never mind that New York Magazine voted him the city's "Sexiest Lead Singer." The simple fact is, that he's a frontman with remarkable charisma, a pop star that dominates a stage, and enthralls his audience, and yet does so without compromising that enigmatic something that makes Elefant a band that is truly without parallel.
"There's been a million pretty faces in rock over the years," Garcia concludes, "it's pop music, and you use whatever you've got. It's part of the game. But at the end of the day, if the songs around good, you aren't going to be around long."
Yes, Elefant are a New York band at a time when just being from New York holds enormous cachet. But their appeal would seem to be virtually without limit. Indeed, when suggested that "Elefant's debut is so strong, you may find yourself shouting its praises from a rooftop," one imagines that those yet uninitiated to their music will thank you for doing so.
--- from the official Elefant website