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Thai Elephant Orchestra - Elephonic Rhapsodies

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Artist: Thai Elephant Orchestra

Album: Elephonic Rhapsodies

Label: Mulatta

Review date: Apr. 7, 2005

Fittingly, sequels for the most part can be compartmentalized in one of two categories: the substantially garnished retread disguised as upgrade (Be Here Now, Evil Dead 2) or the systematic dismantling/divestment of the original (The Second Coming, The Testament of Orpheus). Works intended for serialization (Use Your Illusion, the Three Colors Trilogy) need not apply. The latest disc from pop culture footnote/anthropomorphic psych collective the Thai Elephant Orchestra is a prime specimen of the first distinction.

The svengalis behind the mood music are Richard Lair, a U.N.-anointed pachyderm expert who works at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang, and David Soldier, a neurologist from Columbia with a laboratory to his name and a record label, Mulatta, at his hand. In 2002 after the pair waded out the debut long-player of jungle improvisations from their gentle avant giants, Lair joked that its follow up had the “code name” Schlock CD. The spine may read Elephonic Rhapsodies, but this album may sadly be what he was referring to.

Studded with human guesting – the introductory storybook voiceover by the self-appointed “Uncles” Dave and Richard being the corniest – Elephonic Rhapsodies has a rich core that is excessively garlanded. Intended as an easy-listen kiddie companion, it thankfully still holds the occasional barbiturate patterns for the heads. At its best, such as “The Ganesha Symphony’’’s four languorous movements, the 11-piece mammal band – rattling on a variety of gongs, xylophones, drums and even a wobbly bass and lubricious harmonica – blur with the sidereal trance outs of such two (cross-) legged dirge generators as the No-Neck Blues Band and Avarus. Bulking the CD’s first half, these savanna jams – loose clusters of woody clatter and tin sprinkles – float on lucid freeform association. King Crimson’s wrong: elephant talk ain’t all arguments. Indeed, the homus beardo equivalents in routing the same organic throb are professional pipe-smokers in comparison.

Open and slow, these communal compositions flow through primal nodes of perception. When actual musicians and their sober tonal arithmetic join the troupe, a schizoid stereoscopic effect takes hold. On one channel there are violin glissades and flute sputters while the other is all animal clang and drone. New Age is clearly struggling to dawn. In addition, far too many gimmicks pepper the lengthy disc: a lazy and needless dance remix, Beethoven via marching band and trunk percussion, a Hank Williams cover that lingers briefly in Ghost’s hypnotic underworld, some lite pop schmaltz perfect for daily play in Ginza malls, and poorly CG’d children’s songs. After establishing the elephants’ prowess for transmissive sonic invention, such chintzy diversions stink of circus. The Orchestra’s sublime frequencies deserve more bandwidth.

By Bernardo Rondeau

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