Though lockdown put a temporary pause on Elephant Sessions’ busy global itinerary of tour and festival dates, it was by no means wasted. On fourth album For The Night, written during the enforced break, they’ve come back bigger and better than before.
The eight instrumental originals on it build on the same formula that has established them as one of Scotland’s foremost and most forward-thinking trad bands, executed to a higher level. This is clear from the start, with the title track having the uptempo flurry of fiddle and mandolin that has become the band’s trademark, against a tight and economical bassline and drum pattern that surges forwards with intensity.
Everything is taken up a notch throughout the album; Euan Smillie’s multitracked fiddle adds epic sweeps or disco stabs with absolutely skintight accuracy. The rhythm section have swapped their skinny jeans and trainers for dancing shoes as Seth Tinsley’s funky basslines on the likes of After Hours and FM pop out of the speakers.
Over the top of this, the fiddle and mandolin are absolutely hand in glove through every jerk and shuffle, their uncluttered and precise style of delivering the tunes perfectly suited to the sometimes busy arrangements. The tunes and the riffs around them are constructed from catchy pentatonic hooks that could sit as comfortably on the trending playlists on streaming platforms as a folk festival stage.
But what makes Elephant Sessions such an enjoyable listen both live and on record is their unequalled mastery of the dropout and build up. Though each track at some point invariably is stripped back to its rawest elements part way through, before rising to a dramatic finish, the timing and manner is never predictable, with the interlude being used to introduce new hooks and riffs.
Equally impressive is that much of the variety in groove and dynamics within and between tracks is achieved with just the core four piece band, with just an occasional sprinkling of samples on top such as the choral line during the build-up on After Hours standing in for the noise of a live audience you can easily picture singing along with great enthusiasm. There’s another suitably storming finish as final track FM brings the album to a close, recycling the second half of the tune from slow number Ebbe in a fresh context.
On For The Night, Elephant Sessions have brought a new level of craft and maturity to their Scottish vernacular indie-folk with all the energy that has marked out their previous releases. A colossal album that we look forward to hearing live on stage soon.Nick Brook
Released September 9 2022 on Elephant Sessions Records.
1. For The Night
2. Is This a Vibe
3. After Hours