Louisville’s atmospheric emo heroes, BOKY’d. That’s a lower case “e” to you, good sir!
My first memories of elliott were from 1996. They were big news in the local scene, being as they were the new band of Falling Forward singer Chris Higdon. The initial word was they were “rock” – meaning, their sound was a little more “grown up” than what the all-ages crowd was normally looking for from local bands.
I don’t know that I saw them live until some time in 1997. They immediately reminded me of a band I was very into at the time: Sunny Day Real Estate. So, of course, I immediately latched onto them as a new favorite local band.
Their first release was a two-song 7″, In Transit, the only recording that features their first drummer, Ben Lord. He quit the band in ’97, and was replaced by Kevin Ratterman, who quickly became more than just the band’s drummer. While Higdon was the only member of elliott who was there from start to finish, Ratterman was a close second, and is responsible for broadening the band’s sound to include a wide swath of electronic and ambient sounds. In short, Ratterman was a studio whiz, and played a huge part in crafting elliott’s sound over the years.
Their first album, US Songs, came in 1998. It’s a great document of their early sound, a record that doesn’t quite get the accolades that it deserves, because their sound shifted away from it pretty quickly thereafter. To be honest, that’s my favorite era of elliott.
After US Songs, elliott hit a rough patch, at least in my opinion. Their music took a much darker turn, and while the songs on If They Do sound great production-wise, it wasn’t really clicking with me like their early material had.
In 2000, they issued False Cathedrals, which greatly expanded their sound to include the fullness of Ratterman’s sonic arsenal. Many consider it their best record, and while I admire their drive to make a record that would challenge their audience of hardcore kids, it is, for me, a misstep.
I lost interest in elliott after that, and didn’t even realize they’d put out a 3rd LP until 2005 or so. At first, I wasn’t that into Song In The Air, but over time, it has grown on me and I know consider it a really great record. I’m glad they ended on that high note: I think they fully developed into what they were hoping to become on False Cathedrals.
I do wonder why elliott broke up when they did. Maybe they weren’t gaining the kind of traction they’d hoped, but I will say that they are a band that I think could have continued evolving and become even better over time.
Three full-lengths for elliott, over the course of which they evolved greatly.
Release Year: 1998
My Rating: A
I’ve always loved elliott’s early vibe, and this is the album that best encapsulates it. Saw these guys a bunch back before this record came out, and they were making beautiful power pop, and that is essentially what is documented here. With the influence of (at the time) new drummer Kevin Ratterman, they’d evolve into something much darker and more atmospheric, but US Songs represents that captured my imagination in a pretty big way in the late 90’s. NOTE: The version of “The Watermark High” here is vastly inferior to the earlier 7″ version (see below).
HIGHLIGHTS: “Miracle”, “Intro”, “The Conversation”, “Second Story Skyscraper”, “Alchemy As A Rhythm”
Release Year: 2000
My Rating: B
Many view elliott’s second album as their best, even a classic. For me, it’s a step forward in terms of production, a step backwards in terms of songwriting. I think an analogy to The Cure is helpful: many really love their dark records (Faith / Pornography / etc). I, on the other hand, prefer the poppy Cure of “Close To Me”, “Just Like Heaven”, “Friday I’m In Love”, etc. Well, this is elliott’s Faith / Pornography here. Heavy emotions, very heavy, but so heavy they weigh the music down like a lead balloon. Despite that, it’s a pretty good record that I do enjoy from time to time. I just think it could have been better.
HIGHLIGHTS: “Calm Americans”, “Blessed By Your Own Ghost”, “Shallow Like Your Breath”, “Speed Of Film”
Song In The Air
Release Year: 2003
My Rating: A
False Cathedrals was a misstep for me. Even now, it just doesn’t hit in the way I think they intended for it to hit. Well, to be honest, I lost interest in elliott for several years after False Cathedrals hit, and I didn’t discover Song In The Air into a few years after its release. At this point, I can say that Song In The Air is elliott fully realized in their own vision. It’s excellent, atmospheric hard rock, executed perfectly. The melancholy is thick, but in one word, this record is a MOOD. Special accolades go to guitarist Benny Clark (this is first record with the band). His guitar work is spectacular on this record. In short: elliott left us with their magnum opus.
HIGHLIGHTS: “Land And Water”, “Believe”, “Drag Like Pull”, “Bleed In Breathe Out”, “Song In The Air”, “Away We Drift”
OTHER RELEASES & TRACKS
In Transit 7"
Release Year: 1997
The band’s very first release was one of its best. Featuring its first drummer, Ben Lord, A-side “The Watermark High” is much better here than on US Songs (the version there sounds stale), thanks in large part (if I’m being honest) to Lord’s looser drum-style. B-side “Halfway Pretty” is a gorgeous indie ballad; at the time it was pretty unusual to hear a bunch of hardcore kids making a song like it, and it still stands out as one of the band’s finest moments.
If They Do 7"
Release Year: 1999
Gotta be honest – the two songs here, though well produced, just aren’t that great. They’re heavier, darker, and I feel like I *should* dig them, but I don’t. I never have. Now, that’s not to say they’re horrible, it’s just that they don’t have much to commend them.
Will You 7"
Release Year: 1999
An early version of “Calvary Song” (which would show up on False Cathedrals) along with a cover of the song “Fan and the Bellows” by The Chameleons. Both solid. I actually like this version of “Calvary Song” better than the one on False Cathedrals. Also, I think “The Fan and the Bellows” features original guitarist Jay Palumbo on vocals.
Release Year: 2005
My Rating: A
Not sure how you’d classify this release, but one thing is for sure: it’s a crucial document of elliott’s live show in the last days of their existence. According to the notes, the first 7 tracks were recorded live in studio immediately after their last show, while the rest are various studio outtakes from the past. Among the treasures here are re-recorded False Cathedral tracks, which feel more fully realized than the original studio versions (how great is that techno reimagining of “Drive On To Me” [“Drive”, track 9]?). Also, I recognize the final 3 tracks as the “transition music” that used to fill the dead space between songs when they’d perform live. So I guess you’d call this elliott’s version of an odds n’ ends collection. Whatever it is, it’s an essential release for elliott fans.
HIGHLIGHTS: “Dionysus Burning”, “Calm Americans”, “Drive”, “This Program Is Not Responding”
- “Lost Instrumental”: This is a nifty instrumental from their session for the In Transit 7″. It was released in 1999 on the If They Do CD. I can remember seeing them open with this back in their earliest days. They were almost a party band at that point. Anyway, what’s interesting is that this contains the seed of the ambient / instrumental stuff they’d do more fully in their later years, once Kevin Ratterman had joined the band. Not amazing, but very enjoyable and a different flavor than what you’d expect from elliott.
- “Halfway Pretty Acoustic”: Exactly what is says – very pretty, atmospheric, acoustic version of one of their early classics. I dig it (though the original version is the better of the two).
- “Remember”: A cover of an Endpoint song. Actually pretty good, and I say that as someone who was never really dug Endpoint that much!
- “Orphalese”: Never heard this one, don’t know much about it. Can anyone hook me up?
- “Isn’t Freedom A Poison?”: This is elliott’s contribution to Metroschifter’s Encapsulated (a project where they curated a lineup of artists to record the songs for the next album). Enjoyable.
- “Untitled”: Another one I’ve never heard. If anyone can hook me up, let me know. THIS.
- “Another Nail For My Heart”: This is a 1999 cover of an old Squeeze tune, and it’s pretty good. Coming as early as it did between US Songs and False Cathedrals, you can hear the increased use of electronic instruments as they transition to the later sound. All in all, enjoyable.
- Falling Forward: Behold, elliott rose liketh the phoenix from the ashes of this pretty-deece early 90’s emocore band. Three of elliott’s original members – Hidgon, Mobley, and Lord – were members of Falling Forward. FF released a 7″ (Let This Day Pass), an LP (Hand Me Down), another 7″ (self-titled), and a split 7″ with Metroschifter. All of them are pretty good, and for you lovers of Higdon’s voice, it’s on full display on all of their songs. My favorite Falling Forward track is “The Great Union Divide” from the self-titled 7″. It’s extremely fantastic. If you dig elliott, I expect you’d like Falling Forward.
- Boundless and Starstruck: Back in 1997, I bought this at a local record store. Essentially, it was a one off instrumental project by Kevin Ratterman, and it’s gorgeous. I still listen to it frequently 24 years later. Not only does it hold up, but it’s insightful to hear how Ratterman’s own musical vision quickly came to influence the sound of the band he joined around this time. Highly essential for all of you elliott peeps.
- Frontier(s): This is Higdon’s post-elliott band. Kind of a blend of elliott’s later sound with the DC post-hardcore sound of the mid-90s, think Jawbox with prettier vocals. One LP, one 7″, and one EP, all very worth checking out.
- Other bands like eleven-11, Wax Fang, and Kilowatthours are related.