Elk City showcases its inventive art-pop on ‘Souls in Space’ EP

Elk City Souls in Space review

The cover of Elk City’s EP, “Souls in Space.”

Put on your headphones and tune into Souls in Space, art-pop band Elk City’s stunning new EP, available today on Bar/None Records. Each song demonstrates singer Renée LoBue’s powerful but subtle songwriting, which conjures impressionistic images and intimate emotional portraits, framed by the group’s tremendously strong music. Together, they create an elegant, hypnotic and danceable sound.

Their songs are like a luscious dessert. I want to come back for a second helping of another close listening. The band envelops LoBue’s confident spice and sensitivity without overwhelming her voice, providing texture that moves the dramatic narratives forward.

“Judy Knows How” brilliantly portrays a character driven to pursue lovers for the sake of conquest. Intimacy is not part of the allure. Judy controls and manipulates by giving just enough attention to seduce, but not enough focus to keep her boyfriend from becoming a “jealous guy.” She “calculates at creating jealousy,” said LoBue in an interview.

Indeed, “Judy knows how to make the air grow green,” LoBue sings. If you are her lover, she will spend the weekend with you and then “she’ll pretend she never met you when she sees you at a show.” With predatory moves, she charms, but “there’s a conquest to be won beneath her smile.” Do not expect a goodnight text from Judy. We are warned that she “won’t visit you, she won’t stay in touch.”

JOE REINO

From left, Chris Robertson, Richard Baluyut, Renée LoBue, Ray Ketchem and Sean Eden of Elk City.

When I listen to this song, I think of “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” co-written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, another song that conjures an insecure love affair. When I mentioned this connection to LoBue, she said “everybody’s insecure — and that’s why Elk City’s last LP, from 2018, is titled Everybody’s Insecure.”

LoBue said that when she thinks about the song, “I think about how cruel it all is. Hurt people hurt other people. It’s a glimpse into modern relationships.”

This theme carries over to the inhuman character portrayed in the upcoming video of “Pity of a Rose,” a distinctive and pensive song on the new EP.

“Pity of a Rose” speaks to those moments when we feel sorry for ourselves, adrift and depleted and caught in our own distorted narratives. “Ultimately, it’s a song about feeling sorry for oneself … a party of one at the pity party,” said LoBue.

In the video, a masked creature, played by LoBue, stands alone in a field and peers at the sky. Later, the creature comes alive and LoBue smiles, singing of transformation, dancing slowly as deer pass by.

There’s hope that the character will find connection: “But I’ve changed, I’ve changed/No longer who I thought I was/I’ve changed, I’ve changed, beginning like a rosebud,” LoBue sings.

The video team includes Jon Reino, who filmed the footage, the band’s drummer Ray Ketchem and LoBue, who conceptualized the film. It was edited at Magic Door Recording, a Montclair studio owned by Ketchem. (The same team produced Elk City’s recent video for the song “Dream on Tip Toe,” also featured on the new EP).

Co-founded by LoBue and Ketchem, Elk City also features guitarists Chris Robertson and Sean Eden (also of Luna) and bassist Richard Baluyut (also of Versus). Carl Baggaley played keyboards on the EP, but is no longer with the band.

The video was shot in Mountainside Park in Montclair on a cool August evening. LoBue said “the presence of the deer juxtaposes the truth and beauty of nature into my performance of an unnatural being en route to becoming human.”

JOE REINO

From left, Renée LoBue, Ray Ketchem and Richard Baluyut of Elk City at the Montclair Center Stage Music Festival on May 4, 2019.

Passionate about filmmaking, LoBue enjoys bringing movement to her videos. “My fascination with movement is ever-evolving. Movement, to me, is the highest ritual in recreating space; in changing one’s narrative. I believe we did recreate the space at Mountainside Park that evening and I feel more connected to myself and to all that is because of it. Additionally, I wanted to have fun with it and pay homage to my love of vintage horror films like 1968’s ‘Night of the Living Dead’ while also nodding to my fascination with Kabuki theater.”

Listen for the palpable longing expressed in the catchy tune “Luncheonette,” a song about unrequited desire. The protagonist dreams about sitting with the person she longs for, talking over coffee at this diner, but her fantasy is interrupted because “there’s no seating at the luncheonette.”

Her distraction is not just momentary. The protagonist thinks about her imaginary lover when she wakes up in the morning and right before her head hits the pillow at night. Sadly, she hopes for “a shot in the parking lot,” a chance meeting that isn’t going to happen.

“It’s really my nod to one of my favorite records of all time: Rickie Lee Jones’ Flying Cowboys. That record is so beautiful in its fragility and human essence.”

In “Luncheonette” LoBue sings about running into her beloved in their “boring town,” but is quick to explain that she wrote the song before moving to her current hometown, Montclair. “Montclair is not boring,” she said.

Ketchem explained the basis for defining Elk City as art pop: “Art pop opens the possibilities to be more than literal. Lyrics can be more abstract. Imagery more interesting than being tied to one persona. It frees the artist from convention.”

I have come to expect, from Elk City, soul-baring introspective and impressionistic lyrics and an inventive sound. And all that is on display on this latest EP.

Elk City will perform at LOLA in New York, Nov. 17; visit cibpresents.com.

For more on Elk City, visit facebook.com/elkcityband.

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