Album Review: Elephant – Sky Swimming

sky-swimmingElephant’s debut album Sky Swimming features pop roots and a mellow vibe, generated by duo Amelia Rivas and Christian Pinchbeck. The two formed Elephant three years ago and have been creating notable music with powerful lyrics that reflect failed romantic relationships, including their own, as well as hopes for the future. The fact that Rivas and Pinchbeck’s romantic relationship broke down during the making of Sky Swimming adds a dark allure to the album.

Musically, the band shares parallels with another boy-girl group, Cults, that similarly relies on a strong female singer with a focus on keyboards to supplement the vocals. Elephant, however, stands out with their softer songs that include a wider range of soothing harmonies. With Rivas on vocals and keyboards while Pinchbeck takes advantage of a mix of guitars and computers, the duo provides a cohesive and diverse album of synth-pop music.

Sky Swimming transitions widely between beat-based arrangements and soft melodies, yet maintains a relatively slow tempo throughout. “Assembly” opens the record with a mid-tempo, vocally impressive harmony that perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the album. “Allured” introduces a unique element of Elephant’s sound, which includes soft vocals accompanied by dominant instrumentation. Tracks like “Ants” and “Elusive Youth” display the band’s more upbeat side, breaking out of the records lull and into exciting dance-pop terrain.

“Shipwrecked” slows the album down while incorporating computer-altered vocals as Rivas desolately questions, “what’s the point of time, it dissolves in the sea.” Here Elephant’s lyrics reflect the sort of washed out ennui that typifies their sound. “Come to Me” again showcases Elephant’s softer side with the fast-paced keyboards perfectly accompanying Rivas’ delicate voice. In the sullen yet engaging title-track “Sky Swimming,” Rivas exclaims how she sees “the blue in your eyes,” referring to her past relationship with Pinchbeck which evidently ended in anguish. The last song of their twelve-track record, “Shapeshifter,” closes the album beautifully by combining the unique range of elements from the rest of the songs into one last dynamic tune that arises as a clear standout.

Sky Swimming features a series of intricate songs that can’t only be categorized as pop tunes because of their multidimensionality. The album overall offers a calmness, supplemented at times by dancier elements. The aural weariness that permeates the record is likely an indictor of the emotional unrest between these musicians. It appears as though the duo plans to move forward with a musical career, but the balance of intrapersonal politics between Rivas and Pinchbeck remains to be clarified.

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