EP Review: The Elephant Parallax, “Loam and Sky”

There are two epic songs battling for your attention on Loam and Sky, the new EP from The Elephant Parallax out Friday, and either could launch a fit description of why the record is indispensable.

First, there is the opener, “The Conscious.” Though it begins with “Bloody Mary”-style drums and a pixelated, Battles-ish guitar onslaught, what comes to drive it is a mathy alt-metal crescendo in odd time signatures over which the band, frankly, scorches Earth. The 1-2/1-2-3 wallop is the type of anthem you want to shout at the top of your lungs and that’s exactly what the trio does, mixing well-placed, choral oohs-and-ahs with barks that match the bite. How these guys fit so much into four minutes is beyond me.

Then, there’s the closer, “Incenfeminalgia II,” a sequel-of-sorts to a math-minded monster from the group’s 2010 self-titled LP. This one takes time to catch fire, introducing the soundscape with three minutes and change of moody, cinematic, reverbed-guitar-driven post-rock, the vague sounds of crackling fire. But when it strikes, it strikes hard. Again, the band flashes prog allegiances as much as shows off its alt-metal chops; think Pelican covering Tool or Hella covering The Mars Volta as men with fine voices lament, “Where did our intuition go?” The eruption here, when it comes, is visceral and boil-inducing – when the band darts into double-time near the close of the song’s nearly-10-minute run-time, after a fiery guitar breakdown, the rhythmic interplay between bass, drums and guitar is to tight, your ears will play tricks on you and you’ll start hearing the explosions as a series of rolling tides. This is intense stuff, some of the most blistering alt-metal you’ll hear this year.

The rest of the four-song EP is an interesting lull, for the most part sparser and more loosely packed, a passageway between mountainous terrain. The tracks, including the moody “OhRei,” aren’t duds, far from it; there are just no ways the music can measure up to the brilliance of the opening and closing tracks.

The whole EP was recorded at Ocean Way, once a recording home to the Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson, and the attention to hi-fi detail shows. Every guitar chord crunches just so, the vocals (especially the background chorale) are well-mixed, and the little details throughout, like the careful placement of vibraphone in the intro to the last track, indicate this thing was produced more than your prototypical alt-metal demo. It’s not overly polished or gross with studio goo but it works. And it works wonders.

Now, if I could only get those two songs out of my head.