Drunk Elk – ‘Drunk Elk’
In 2007, the Australian trio Drunk Elk recorded a singular self-titled cassette for Sean Bailey’s Inverted Crux label. Despite limited release, the album circulated through the freakier channels of the international underground via bootlegs, private downloads, and whispered praise. While Drunk Elk has since spawned a string of equally powerful releases, this first album remains exceptional. It is a snapshot of the band in embryo, exuding the kind of vulnerability only achieved when nobody else is listening. Drunk Elk was recorded in Battery Point, a coastal suburb of Hobart, Tasmania, where deep harbors and heavy skies set the appropriate backdrop for the band’s moody, romantic repetition. With keyboard, bass, and singer Dave Elk’s devotional verse as the only instrumentation, the songs are by nature skeletal, but they somehow ooze a luminous melancholy. Sam Acres wrings delicate melodies from the cheapest keyboard presets. Simon Kraus’s bass lilts in and out of time with a blunt, buzzing tone. Dave Elk’s sings with an exalted pathos. Drunk Elk is elegant even in their clumsiness. They hit all the wrong notes at the right moments. Homespun shambles are rendered with strange finesse and a dark, poetic extravagance. When Dave sings Play that strange tune again / That off-key melody, I believe he is singing as his listener—confounded by the music’s strangeness, but captivated by its curious charms.
Russian Tsarlag – ‘Gel Stations Past’
Gel Stations Past brings together tracks from three shadowy self-released cassettes by Russian Tsarlag: Decrepit Gas Station, Living in the Past, and Dipped in Gel. Dubbed in minimal quantities and cloistered for private worship, much of Russian Tsarlag’s recent output remains hard to find. Each of these albums dispersed instantly among friends and fanatics and receded into legend. This record consolidates the great pieces of crooner dejection that typify Tsarlag’s recent music. These are his saddest and slowest-burning songs, drawn in dour guitar, sweeping keyboard, and sedated vocals that teeter well below mid-tempo. Many share a somber two-chord schema that slips in perfect doses of dissonance and distortion. The results are at once refined and totally ragged, seductive, woozy, and smeared in Tsarlag’s shapely four-track atmospherics.