Since the release of their last album, 2017’s All We Have Is Now, the five young Highlanders who are Elephant Sessions have toured around the world, garnering numerous awards and journalistic plaudits, and even had a pale ale named after them by Belhaven Brewery. So it’s a wonder they’ve managed to find the time to step back into the studios and lay down another fine album, What Makes You.
What Makes You sums up where the band is at, making the music they feel represents them, their experiences and musical interests. It’s such a tight fusion of many different influences including acid jazz, rock, funk and electro beats that it’s pointless trying to unpick it all – and it’s still all layered round that inescapably Scottish traditional heart.
If Euan Smillie’s fiddle and Alasdair Taylor’s mandolin embody tradition on the front line, writhing and tumbling around rhythmic, melodic and tempo variations, Mark Bruce ably throws rock shapes on guitar. Seth Tinsley parries with a full-funk bassline plus electronica, while Greg Barry’s sensitive percussion lends light and shade to the whole sonic picture.
The simple, mantra-like melody of the atmospheric ‘Intro’ segues into ‘What Makes You’ where it gets tossed lightly around in a swirl of variations – and it’s the fluid ease of this, as well as the skilful use of layering, that makes Elephant Sessions work so well.
The mellow chimes of ‘Colours’ slide in softly, before swishy percussion and driving guitar kick in, over which the fiddle soars and winds, counterpointed by an angular mandolin. ‘Search Party’ wakes up rocking, its jagged, flickering guitar giving the impression of sirens and flashing lights, while mandolin and bass riffs suggest a funky distant cousin of Another One Bites The Dust.
‘Loft Crofter’ sets a wriggly fiddle and mandolin over bright, jagged funk and a brittle snap track. Meanwhile, at ‘Tyagarah’ (named after the site of Australian Bluesfest where Elephant Sessions have twice played) there’s a more sinister, dry, insect-like clicking that evolves into a bubbling popcorn beat as the front line once more tangles and slides away.
The bare-arsed funk workout of ‘We Out Here Now’ is an instant party groove, so the quiet start of ‘Riverview Part 1’ comes in like the morning-after, its melancholy fiddle soaring over moody brass. Mirroring the start of the album, this penultimate track launches straight into its upbeat counterpart, ‘Riverview Part 2’, an electro-driven, acid-jazz folk tune with big blasts of brass like a ship leaving harbour.
As a band whose reputation is fast being cemented on their joyous live performances, that live energy was something they wanted to capture on this album. If success could be measured in the momentary surprise at the absence of an outburst of applause after each track, then What Makes You is a runaway success.
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‘Colours’ – official video: