Album Review

Elastic Wasteland

Elastic Wasteland

by SJD

Roundtrip Mars
7.5 / 10
12th December 2012

Reviewed by Louisa Kasza

Elastic Wasteland is, first and foremost, an addictive, intensely listenable electronica album. It is also an album of juxtapositions: light and dark, humour and earnestness, electronic and acoustic, unearthly and mundane. The album title itself brings to mind a Simpsons-style comedic take on the darkly modern phenomenon of landfills overflowing with discarded electronic components.

These tensions are to the fore from the get-go. The dreamy electro-pop soundscapes and apocalyptic visions of first single and opening track 'The Lizard Kings' are counteracted by a wryness in its reference to David Icke's often satirised “shape shifting reptilian” conspiracy theory. As in so many theories of this kind, the feelings of powerlessness and paranoia are quite real, and these set the scene for a darker album than one might expect from a known purveyor of quirky tunes that are nonetheless full of heart.

However, it was never going to be all doom and gloom. Another tension is that between the intentional artifice of heavily layered electronic beats and the bare authenticity of Donnelly's voice, as can be heard on love songs 'Make Love Ask Questions Later' and 'Lena'. Here, the vulnerability of Donnelly's shakey vocals in the face of a multitude of weird sounds brings to mind Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne in his prettier moments.

Donnelly's perennial self-effacing humour also makes an appearance when the more earnest and emotional lyrics of 'Empty World' – a song of lost love – are the ones that get all the auto-tuning treatment. In a way, though, this feels like a backing off from intentions, as can often be the case with tongue-in-cheek flourishes of this kind. More successful use of intentional cheesiness can be found in 'Make Love Ask Questions Later', in which the keyboard refrain evokes the end-credits of a particularly romantic episode of Saved by the Bell – all sun-soaked melody and plastic palm trees. Rather than undermining, this serves to underpin the simple message of this purely enjoyable ballad.

This aw-shucks so-Kiwi modesty mode can quickly grow tiresome. Thankfully, it is saved from becoming so through the variety of moods running through the album, from the acidic and poppy stand-out track 'These Are the Names' to the Kavinsky-esque, vaguely demonic 'Jumping Over Fences'. The album is also prevented from becoming saccharine by the way Donnelly extends the dark, apocalyptic themes of the album by setting up a descent from light and humorous to dark and hopeless, culminating in the haunting pairing of 'Song of Baal' and 'Wolves'.

Elastic Wasteland retains the sweetly eccentric nature of Donnelly's earlier efforts, but with very little of the soul influence he is known for and with a sharper edge than usual. However, the electronic beats – such as on the danceable 'These Are the Names', and the aptly titled 'Hypnotised By Roads', which produces the exact feeling it says on the tin - are both convincing and intoxicating, like a damn good biting from a Lizard King.

The Lizard Kings
The Lizard Kings, by SJD

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