The Elefant evolution

The New York band's ambitious new `Black Magic Show' is accessible and polished

May 11, 2006|By RASHOD D. OLLISON | RASHOD D. OLLISON,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

You may think I'm crazy for saying this, but you can almost see the music coming out the speakers on this record. It's like a movie," says Diego Garcia, the lead singer and chief songwriter for Elefant. Calling from a tour stop in Gainesville, Fla., the artist is talking about The Black Magic Show, the latest and second album by the New Wave-influenced New York quartet.

Elefant, which plays the Ottobar on Tuesday, achieves a more atmospheric sound on the new CD. The production, overseen by Don Gilmore, who has worked with Linkin Park and Avril Lavigne, is fuller than that on the group's well-received 2003 debut, Sunlight Makes Me Paranoid. The cinematic feel Garcia refers to comes from the lyrics he wrote.

"The first record was like an innocent kiss," says the artist, 27. "The new record deals with love lost and the struggle one goes through with all the temptations of being on the road and having your world turned upside down. You hear more confidence on this record."

What you hear immediately is the group's devotion to '80s-era rock, particularly the music that David Bowie released during the decade. Garcia's melodramatic, Morrissey-like vocal approach floats throughout The Black Magic Show, buoyed by the urgent drumming of Kevin Mc- Adams, the chunky riffs of guitarist Mod and the stiff bass lines of Jeff James. The band is part of the slew of fine to middling New Wave-inspired acts to emerge in the past five years or so, including the Killers, Franz Ferdinand and She Wants Revenge. Elefant stands out from the bunch with its elastic melodies, which are better realized on The Black Magic Show.

Lyrically on the new record, Garcia was inspired by the heavy reading he managed to do when he wasn't performing and living the rock-star life on the road. The overall dark feel of the CD, specifically on the title cut, is derived from Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, a story about Satan's influence on an entire city. The danceable lead single, "Lolita," is part homage to Vladimir Nabokov's infamous character and part autobiographical. Before completion of the new album, Garcia was involved with a younger woman: "Lola is on the floor/She's wanting more/She's wanting more."

"It's where I was in my life, dealing with different issues," Garcia says of The Black Magic Show. "The songs themselves are big. The characters, the words are theatrical."

Despite Elefant's high-minded artistic ambitions, the new album is accessible, brimming with slick songs ripe for radio. Not only has the band applied more polish to its sound, Elefant has refined its image somewhat, looking more stylish in promotional shots. Garcia is the focal point. With looks to rival any GQ model, the Detroit-born performer of Argentinian descent is prominently featured -- his dark, shoulder-length tresses strategically swept away from his chiseled face, the better to check out his smoldering, come-hither stare.

"Whatever gets people to listen to us is fine with me," Garcia says. "People who like music know that image doesn't last forever. It's the music. I can wear a pink tutu, but people will appreciate the music if it's good. The image fades; the music is what lasts."

With each album, Garcia says, the direction will evolve.

"I see the third record as being a healing," he says. "I went through a breakup before The Black Magic Show. This record dealt with more of the uncertainty, the darkness. But I'm starting to feel the sunshine now. So God only knows what kind of music we'll do later."

See Elefant at the Ottobar, 2549 N. Howard St., Tuesday night at 9. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 the day of the show. For more information, call 410-662-0069 or visit theottobar.com.

rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

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