The Horrible Crowes
Elsie


4.7
superb

Review

by Jom STAFF
September 4th, 2011 | 143 replies


Release Date: 2011 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Brian Fallon and longtime friend/Gaslight guitar tech Ian Perkins collaborate on a record that flawlessly juxtaposes despair and sadness with resilience and hope.

If you're familiar with The Gaslight Anthem, I reckon I don't need to speak at length about Brian Fallon's masterful storytelling abilities, where his gravelly, rugged voice operates with the heartfelt conviction and gusto of a fiery preacher delivering his homily. If you've never heard Gaslight, then here's a quick crash course: the New Jersey-bred Fallon has gone on record saying that he has ambitions of Gaslight attaining the same prestige as fellow statesman Bruce Springsteen - The Boss has even played with the quartet on stage - and while Gaslight will always be his top priority, he sought an outlet where he could fuel his burning desire to write songs in the vein of Tom Waits, Nick Cave, or The Afghan Whigs' Greg Dulli. How Fallon has the capacity to take anyone and everyone's sadness, pain, and forlorn spirit and juxtapose these emotions with feelings of healing, of recovery, and hope for the future - and just make it seem so goddamn easy - escapes reasoning and, quite frankly, makes me jealous as hell. Paired up with longtime friend and Gaslight guitar tech Ian Perkins, the Horribe Crowes' debut Elsie is not a Brian Fallon solo record; rather, it is a brooding, soul-searching album (described as "hymns for the lonely" by Fallon himself) that effortlessly coalesces elegy and renaissance in one of this year's best records.

Lyrically, Elsie's character-driven stories aren't far removed from previous Gaslight material, and there are certainly parallels in instrumentation - especially the use of raucous guitars - across the two bands, but an argument can be made that the audience anticipated this. What listeners probably didn't expect is the litany of strings, organ, and other orchestral arrangements (courtesy of the Parkington Sisters) that are only spotted here-and-there across the Gaslight discography. Find a song anywhere from Sink or Swim through American Slang like "Go Tell Everybody", where warm bass and organ precede Fallon ripping into a soulful, frenetic yelp: "I've been known to wear a fine black suit and a murder of a tie; I've got miles on my shoes that your brothers can't buy . . . / So go tell everybody that you drove your poor lover crazy / And take a good look at just what the night did." In what's probably a lazy parallel on my part, Fallon's bombastic, visceral delivery brings to mind a gospel choir, further substantiated by the song's crescendo in its last ninety seconds, where crashing percussion, a soaring string section, and a steady organ swirl amount to one of Elsie's finest moments as Fallon shrieks, "I was a man of great sympathy when I loved you, my baby, but tonight, all my sympathy, oh, she's gone!"

While there are plenty of boisterous moments throughout Elsie ("Behold the Hurricane" is another obvious highlight with its explosive Springsteenian chorus and "Ladykiller" is an alluringly-arranged masterpiece with a number of familiar lyrical highlights ["Let it pour over my head, all your shame and your history / And see if I say a thing as it rolls up inside of me"] that every person has, for good or for ill, gone through at some point in his/her life when an unknown rival snatches one's loved one away from him/her), the record is thoroughly contemplative, and Fallon's sadness and vitriol are clearly palpable. The opening 1-2 punch of "Last Rites" - led by funereal piano and soft tambourine - and the somber "Sugar" (where a rumbling bass line carries the fragile vocal line in the song's chorus) capably sets Elsie's ardent, impassioned tone. Fallon flawlessly balances an I-told-you-so demeanor with a feeling of helplessness throughout "Sugar" ("Only I know, I know you get lonely at night / I know, I know you get lonely sometimes / . . . Nobody knows you like I do / Who do you think that you're kidding this time?").

It's with these slower, more somber affairs where Perkins absolutely shines - as Fallon put pen to paper, Perkins feverishly went to work on Elsie's theatrical piece, creating an atmospheric ambiance scaffolded by his fantastic instrumentation and beautiful arrangements. For example, the slide guitar, reverberating bass, and spirited organ makes "I Witnessed a Crime" even more potent, and the cacophonous "Mary Ann" is a foot-stomping, hand-clapping pursuit with its bluesy guitars and clamorous percussion (courtesy of Fallon's bandmates in The Gaslight Anthem) and resonant organ having an innovative, yet strangely familiar, swagger. The same can be said about "Black Betty and the Moon", which is arguably the record's highlight slower number, with its soft vocals (where Fallon serves as his own vocal accompaniment, with a whispered track underneath his sung vocal, namely in its bridge) and pleasant piano; meanwhile, the sauntering, waltz-like "Cherry Blossoms" is somewhat spooky in its bittersweet build, and while I'm sure I'll catch hell for this, Brian Fallon sounds as if he's channeling the late Jeff Buckley here. The duo's efforts on "Crush" is, almost without question, the quintessential Horrible Crowes track, and is one I repeatedly come back to and find something amazing about it.

As haunting as Elsie is with its omnipresent playback value, some moments don't sonically translate well. For instance, the intent behind "I Believe Jesus Brought Us Together" is a wonderful story (the stanza "Do you wanna come over? I was just about to miss you / Did you say you were lonely? I was just about to call you" is an emphatic kick to the gut every single time) with perfectly-eery supporting instrumentation (in particular, the high keys on the piano), but meanders for far too long, weakening its impact. It may be the victim of poor tracklist placement - the preceding "Blood Loss" begins lethargically, and its almost-to-excess symbolism and romantic ideals taint the song's recovery at its midpoint, where everything feels right again.

These are small complaints, though, as the emotion and intensity behind Elsie is almost constantly at fever-pitch regardless of tempo or topic. Perkins' resplendent arrangements are immaculate throughout the record, and Fallon's lyricism rarely, if ever, needs to be defended. His raspy, rugged vocals complement his character-driven tales so well, and coupled with Perkins' knack for constructing gorgeous compositions, Elsie's wide array of emotions, and the various techniques the duo utilizes in executing each individual track is certainly noteworthy. There is incredible sadness, anguish, and despair throughout the record, but these emotions are always countered by resilience, confidence, and hope. Elsie is nostalgic, contemplative, and persistent; it's also one of 2011's best. Imagine a time capsule filled with old photographs, torn love notes, and mementos of past mistakes. This is its soundtrack.

A

Jom recommends:


Go Tell Everybody
Crush
Black Betty and the Moon
Ladykiller



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user ratings (218)
Chart.
4.1
excellent
other reviews of this album
1 of
  • Aaron CONTRIBUTOR (4.5)
    "Elsie" will still be playing on my Ipod long after I've grown tired of "Handwritten"....

    Devotedzak2 (4.5)
    A direct shot from nowhere........

    Mike Allen (4.5)
    I was a man of great sympathy when I loved you baby, but tonight all my sympathy is gone...

    BigHans (4.5)
    Be still my heart, I age 5 years at the mention of your name....

  • Ali CONTRIBUTOR (3.5)
    A worthy side project which provides further proof of Brian Fallon's growing songwriting c...


Comments:Add a Comment 
Kiran
Emeritus
September 4th 2011


6001 Comments


i wasn't even aware he was coming out with a side project, must get

iFghtffyrdmns
September 4th 2011


7047 Comments


A most triumphant return to the reviewing stage indeed, Mr. Jom.
Great write-up, this sounds awesome, though I've only heard a few Gaslight tracks in my time...

AliW1993
Contributing Reviewer
September 4th 2011


7363 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Good review, I'll probably be doing one for this too.

I don't think it's quite 4.5 standard, though, as much as I like it.

AtavanHalen
September 4th 2011


17927 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

This sounds really good.

PorkchopExpress
September 4th 2011


387 Comments


Oh man, I really need to get this. I hadn't even heard of his side project until now, but it sounds like it'll be fantastic.

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
September 4th 2011


15743 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

it's j-j-j-jomblin time

Digging: Flying Lotus - You're Dead!

Lakes.
September 4th 2011


28433 Comments


wow my cousin was talking about how good this was gonna be on vacation. gon have to check this out

Digging: Scott Walker and Sunn O))) - Soused

Eko
September 4th 2011


2119 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I listened to it once, but I didn't think it was THIS good.

SowingSeason
Staff Reviewer
September 4th 2011


16453 Comments


Nice review, this sounds like something I could like.

Digging: Zella Day - Zella Day

AtavanHalen
September 4th 2011


17927 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Just got this, opinion pending.

mallen-
September 4th 2011


1235 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

whoaa

can't wait for this

Knott-
Emeritus
September 4th 2011


10198 Comments


Wait... this is good?

wabbit
September 4th 2011


7010 Comments


the only song I heard off of this was fucking amazing.


Nice review...though a tad long

Jom
Staff Reviewer
September 4th 2011


2688 Comments


It probably won't mean much to people who can't draw parallels from their own lives with the experiences he sings about, but the music is still outstanding, even if you don't feel a personal connection to the record.

Nice review...though a tad long

Absolutely... well, when you look at some of my other reviews, you won't find this one to be so daunting to read, I suppose.

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
September 4th 2011


17920 Comments


his guest spot on chuck ragan's new album is fucking great

i'm still a little wary to approach this though because i hated his voice on american slang

crazyblinddude
September 4th 2011


3389 Comments


This sounds awesome Jom. Def excited to listen to it now.

Jom
Staff Reviewer
September 4th 2011


2688 Comments


i'm still a little wary to approach this though because i hated his voice on american slang


He varies his inflection and delivery a bit more than what he did across Gaslight's discography, but his singing voice on tracks like "Behold the Hurricane" is pretty similar to what you'd hear on something like "Bring It On" from American Slang.

So, in that case, try before you buy, obviously, but there are a couple great tracks that you'd really enjoy and the rest would substantiate you feeling wary.

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
September 4th 2011


17920 Comments


i just don't want to hear him christina aguilera the shit out of songs like he did on that album. fucking horrible.

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
September 4th 2011


15051 Comments


think they spelled crows wrong

Deviant.
Staff Reviewer
September 4th 2011


31367 Comments


No, it's just a reference to Russell Crowe

Digging: Objekt - Flatland



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