Elephant Stone's The Three Poisons is an overlooked gem of 2014 indie pop
Sometimes the best or most interesting releases of the year fly under the radar. In The Catch Up, we shine a light on the films and albums we missed at first glance.
Having played with the likes of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Beck and The Black Angels, Elephant Stone’s frontman, sitarist and bassist Rishi Dhir has had some apprenticeship. Though he’s been around for a long time, he is relatively new as a proficient songwriter, though based on his work you wouldn’t know it. Last year’s brilliant self-titled effort was a perfect example of the jangly consistency that Dhir creates with drummer Miles Dupire and guitarist Gabriel Lampert as part of his Montreal-based band, and latest album The Three Poisons is not much different.
Named after a Stone Roses classic, the influence of the Manchester group on the band’s musical output is obvious. With melodies and harmonies to please anyone of any taste, the band’s brand of sparkling, groovy psych-pop again amalgamates superbly on The Three Poisons to evoke a plethora of emotions, just as good psychedelia should. Though there are clear influences from those with whom Dhir has played, the band’s sound is unequivocally their own. Elephant Stone make music of the soul, music of wisdom, music of the human essence; a manifestation that extends far beyond their sound.
Much like The Beatles, BJM and Kula Shaker who have before explored the links between psych and traditional Indian music, much of the musical and lyrical inspiration is drawn from within. Though each track is thematically linked by introspection, The Three Poisons explores a whole catalogue of emotion, permeated with both uplifting and gloomy musings on experiences and proclivities lived and lost. Pain. Amity. Fear. Hope. All coalesced up into a poignant image of the human psyche.
“I did not hear a sound / I feel so lost unfound / I forgot how to feel again,” Dhir sings on “Worlds Don’t Begin and End with You”, while he considers “where [he] lies” on the existential “Between the Lines”. Dhir is blessed with an uncanny ability to effortlessly conjure instantly memorable descants and poignancies, executing intricate chord progressions and melodies with the finesse, eminence and charm of something much, much more.
“All is Burning” and “Living for Something” are perfect examples of this, and while “Wayward Son” is similarly musically straightforward, the track provides yet another instance of astute reflection over more of the beautifully constructed psych-pop sensibility that Dhir and Elephant Stone produce so effortlessly. “I’ve wandered so far but have somehow missed so much / Gained at the cost of virtue and lost a soul to touch.”
With buzzing sitar and keyboard phrases that transport the listener straight to a dark Delhi temple, for every glimmering pop gem on The Three Poisons there is something more vociferous. The heavy, layered “Three Poisons” and “Motherless Child (Love’s Not For War)” represent somewhat of a musical anomaly from the rest of the serene jangle that make up the album, as does the tight krautrock-style rhythms of “Echo and the Machine”. “Knock You From Yr Mountain” is a lost relic from the Madchester era in the vein of the Happy Mondays, and backed by a psychotropic hip hop beat, “Child of Nature (Om Namah Shiva)” could easily be on the next Gaslamp Killer or Gonjasufi album.
However at the forefront of all remain Dhir’s harmonies, both profound and imperturbable at the same time. Blessed with an uncanny ability to find melodies and lyrics that resonate as deep as the myriad droning sitar phrases that imbue the album, he is fast becoming one of the neo-psych scene’s most important and celebrated stalwarts. Dhir has for some time been one of the most sought after sitar players in the world, but based on his work with Elephant Stone, it seems it is only a matter of time before he begins to be recruited for his songwriting abilities.