Album review: Elkhorn – The Acoustic Storm Sessions

Album artwork

Words by Grey Malkin

The magnificent and mesmeric entity that is Elkhorn, Jesse Sheppard and Drew Gardner, return with an extended and improvised acoustic foray into long form psychedelia and sonic exploration. Recorded during a wild storm that resulted in a prestigious show being cancelled, the duo (alongside friend Turner Williams) turned disappointment into opportunity whilst snowed in at Gardener’s home studio to record spontaneously, using their shared sense of each other’s playing and creativity to craft both earlier release ‘The Storm Sessions’ and this sister album, ‘The Acoustic Storm Sessions’. A departure from the full on mix of acoustic and amplified desert and cosmic landscapes conjured on previous long players such as ‘Sun Cycle/Elk Jam’ this release instead relies on sheer emotive, instinctual power and genuine heart to transport the listener to a unique, inner space.

Split into two compositional pieces, a track per side of vinyl, it quickly becomes clear that the crystalline acoustic fingerpicking and fretplay, whilst improvised and unrehearsed, is a tight and focused soundscape that has both direction and significant emotional heft.  The trio seem to have an almost preternatural sense of each other’s playing, as the music slows to a ritual refrain not unlike an acoustic Popol Vuh, to then fasten into an intense and dynamic raga worthy of Robbie Basho.  Indeed, aficionados of Basho, Fahey and the work of Six Organs of Admittance’s Ben Chasney will find much to love here. You can almost feel the wind and snow whirling around the building and battering at the windows and the door; there is something in the ebb and flow of the guitars, in their intensity rising and dispersing that echoes the turbulent weather experienced during the recording, capturing a unique and authentic moment.

If Part One describes (in musical terms) the tension and edge that comes with huddling in the heart of a storm, Part Two feels  more acclimatised and hopeful, revelling in the comfort and warmth of shelter. Again, recalling the repeated and hypnotic guitar refrains of Popol Vuh’s Florian Fricke (notably his work on the ‘Nosferatu’ album), there is something of the same feeling of spiritual and universal ‘togetherness’ that is evoked here.  There may be snowdrifts outside, but indoors there is company and mutuality. At no point is there a sense of showboating or guitar wizardry, each run or sequence is earthy, cinematic and provides an engaging, evocative soundtrack. Turner’s electric bouzouki provides a shimmering and chiming framework during a particularly exultant section, as both 12 string and 6 string arpeggios gently float down around like flakes of snow. The empathy that is occurring between the players is striking, the songs building, layering and transforming both instinctively and organically.

A triumph captured from trying and difficult circumstances, ‘The Acoustic Storm Sessions’ provide further evidence of just how vital and unique Elkhorn are. It is genuinely exciting to think of where their creative intuition may go next. One thing is certain, you want to be on this journey, come storm or shine.

‘The Acoustic Storm Sessions’ are due for release October 2nd via Centripetal Force/Cardinal Fuzz on both limited black and coloured vinyl.

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