Greatest Show on Earth by Elephant9

Release date: February 16, 2018
Label: Rune Grammofon

Elephant9 have been around for 12 years. The Norway trio have released four albums including a live recording they did for the BBC on a “Jazz on 3” session in November of 2010. And two of those albums include the collaboration with Reine Fiske (Motorpsycho, Dungen, and Paatos). The band considers Ståle Storløkken on Keyboards, Nikolai Elersten on Bass Guitar, and Torstein Lofthus on Drums. It’s this mixture between Jazz, Prog, Experimental, and at times Psychedelic rolled into one.

The first time I heard Elephant9’s music was back in the fall of 2012 when I was a student back at Houston Community College. During those breaks before I was ready to go to my next class, I would listen on my iPod classic to Sid Smith’s Podcasts from the Yellow Room. And there was this band that he played, and it completely caught me off-guard. He played, ‘The Riddler’ on the podcasts which was from their Atlantis album.

And I was hooked. When I was listening to the piece, I was thinking to myself, “Where is this coming from? This has everything in there. It’s Hendrix, Keith Emerson, watery sounds, this is something that is completely out of the blue!” I have three of their albums and if you haven’t heard their music, be prepared for a mind-blowing adventure for this incredible trio that will take you through our solar system.

This year, they’ve released a new album entitled, Greatest Show on Earth which is a follow up to their 2015 release, Silver Mountain. The album clocks in at 35 minutes, there isn’t a 10-minute piece that’s on here. The instrumental pieces clock in between five and six-minutes long.

‘Way of Return’ has this funeral marching drive between the bass, hi-hat, and the pounding beat of the bass drum. You can hear the cello’s from the Mellotron filling the gaps as if their following along towards the human race that isn’t what it seems to be. Stale does these ambient effects on his keyboards as you the listener is meeting the man with the trench coat giving you a key to the other side of the door to see what is inside that will take you to another infinite universe with a chance of coming back and setting things right.

‘Farmer’s Secret’ is Elephant9’s nod to both The Nice and Hansson & Karlsson. I love how they channel both the late legends between Keith Emerson and Bo Hansson by capturing the late ‘60s psychedelic approach. Nikolai channels his bass of Nice’s Lee Jackson. Stale is almost channeling the two keyboardist as if their watching him and knowing that they’ve got his stamp of approval, and keeping the flames burning brighter.

There’s also this moog section in the middle which has this incredible spacey vibe as it flies up towards the skies. One of my favorite tracks on here is, ‘Dancing with Mr. E’. When I listened to this, there’s this Jazz groove capturing the late ‘60s sound of Aphrodite’s Child’s ‘Funky Mary’ groove. And then the Hammond Organ leads through various passageways into more mysterious corridors to keep you guessing for some unexpected twists and turns. It goes into a free-for-all crossover between Krautrock legends CAN (Post Suzuki-era) and early Soft Machine rolled into one as the beat delve into this impulsive sound between the fuzz-tone sounds of Mike Ratledge and the intensive drumming of Jaki Liebezeit that Torstein channels as he goes through the drum patterns as if he’s honoring him and Buddy Rich.

But one of the most chilling compositions on the album is ‘Mystery Blend’. Nikolai and Ståle’s instruments makes you feel as if someone is creeping up behind you for the first 2 minutes and 22 seconds. I always get this feeling that Elephant9 should have done the alternate score to one of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1970’s surreal midnight western classic, El Topo.

You can imagine that part of the music being used in the second and final act of the film where the main character is inside this cave as he is born again and helping the deformed outcasts escape and achieve their freedom. And the in the last minute and 20 seconds of the piece, it almost sending shivers down my spine. And I felt Elephant9 reminiscing the essence of Bo Hansson’s Lord of the Rings-era.

Elephant9 have now taken me to another adventure with Greatest Show on Earth. And the new album itself grows even more and more with me. What I hope for one day in many years to come, is they bring Reine Fiske back to do a film score. And that’s what I can imagine one day they might do. Is it a little too early for me to call this the album of the year so far? It’s just getting a little bit warmed up for that, but we’ll see.

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