Last summer I discovered The Black Angels, listened the hell out of their unbelievable first album Passover, and watched them play an awesomely messy set at the Town Ballroom. They made the lovably odd choice of concluding that set with a lengthy sitar solo, performed by Rishi Dhir, who is the lead singer of Elephant Stone. A few months ago, after I heard through The Black Angels’ Facebook page that Elephant Stone was releasing a self-titled LP on February 5th, I made the decision that it was going to be great.
Now, we all know how expectations work. It’s very rare that something comes along and exceeds them; more often than not, we are let down. That’s usually on us. We’re guilty of setting the bar too high, and then judging something and calling it a disappointment if it fails to reach that level. I’m going to use Band of Horses as an example. They developed a tight-knit, if relatively small following after their first two albums, and expectations were high for their third. When Infinite Arms came out a few years later, fans pretty much thought it sucked. The same thing happened this past year when they released Mirage Rock, and now some fans are saying they’re done. I happen to think Mirage Rock and to a lesser extent Infinite Arms are very good albums, but that doesn’t matter: They will forever be judged by the height at which they initially set the bar. This is not unusual. This happens all the time.
What’s interesting, and how this relates to Elephant Stone, is that my expectations for this album were based not on an opinion I’d formed myself based on Elephant Stone’s previous work, but rather on the word of an entirely different band that I have no real connection to. The Black Angels play very dark, psychedelic music, and The Black Angels told me to listen to Elephant Stone. So when I listened to Elephant Stone and noted that there were way too many songs that would fit in perfectly if played in the background of a summer-love montage, I checked Twitter to see if there were any accounts of pigs flying and I checked Gawker to find a report of an asteroid heading right for Earth. Surely the world must be ending if The Black Angels, a band that recently came to Buffalo and played one set without an encore and wrapped-up the night with a ten-minute sitar solo; a band that, in other words, doesn't seem to give a fuck, recommended Elephant Stone, a band that seems to strive for pop perfection.
My initial confusion manifested itself in the form of disappointment in Elephant Stone. But that seems to be changing. I’m listening to Elephant Stone as I’m typing this, and even now, my opinion of it is evolving. If someone told me to listen to an album that contained reverb-heavy tracks, prominent drums, and lengthy periods of instrumental weirdness I’d be totally sold. The sitar isn’t for everyone (I’m personally not a huge fan), and although the sitar is definitely an important aspect of this album, it’s not at all overwhelming. Rishi Dhir is not playing the sitar for the sake of playing the sitar, and I’m thankful for that.
The biggest problem I had at first was Dhir’s voice. It was “too good,” if you know what I mean. Unlike Alex Maas of The Black Angels, who sings as passionately as anyone and it sounds perfect, Dhir tries to sing too perfectly and you don’t feel the passion. But there I go again, trying to compare Elephant Stone to another band; that’s not how I’d recommend listening to this album. Take it for what it is: a ten-track collection of short and sweet songs, with the exceptions of “A Silent Moment,” and “The Sea of Your Mind,” where the band swerves off the beaten path and makes a diversion into the realm of the unknown, resulting in some seriously good times.
“The Sea of Your Mind,” is the best song and a justification for buying the entire album. But it’s a 9-minute commitment. The best sample of Elephant Stone is the second track, “Heavy Moon,” on which you can hear the startling contrast between the ominous tone of the music and the beautiful pitch of Rishi Dhir’s voice.
If I discovered these guys on my own, if I’d stumbled across them on the radio or something, I’d probably love them. But right now, I can’t shake this unnatural, unjustifiable feeling of disappointment. Elephant Stone is, ultimately, a great example of the irony of social media: I might never have heard of Elephant Stone if it wasn’t for Facebook, but I probably would have liked their album a whole lot more.