Published Jan 20, 2015Do not attempt to hide from the cacophony of modern city life in Indiana songwriter and folklorist Joe O'Connell's (aka Elephant Micah) Where In Our Woods; it is so minimalist that sometimes it is hard to tell whether or not the record is still playing.
Or perhaps, do: O'Connell's midwinter ruminations could be just the antidote needed for city bustle, but you'll have to stop first, or very much slow down, as he often hangs out on just one low note of one string of his nylon string guitar, employing it almost like a meditation bell. This approach works well on the seven-and-a-half-minute-long "Slow Time Vultures," which contrasts rural versus urban experiences of time, via the metaphor of vultures on an old barn roof. Here, pump organ comes in as the breaks on the massive transportation truck of so-called progress, and the listener's patience is rewarded.
Where In Our Woods is O'Connell's 12th album as Elephant Micah, and despite its minimalism, it is also crisp and lush, a departure from the decidedly lo-fi recordings of O'Connell's earlier work. Subtle shakers, tambourine and the satisfying thud of O'Connell's brother Mathew's partial drum kit cradle O'Connell's strummed guitar and warm tenor on opener "By The Canal," while backup vocals from Will "Bonnie 'Prince' Billy" Oldham elevate parts of "No Underground" and uptempo waltz "Demise of the Bible Birds," which exploits the metaphors and puns available in the true story of a troupe of birds trained to perform bible-themed stunts (a recurring subject for O'Connell).
Elsewhere, however, the album suffers from too much of a good thing, its sustained mood and O'Connell's thoughtful, restrained, pretty delivery risk rendering it mere sonic wallpaper. The recorder, meanwhile — arguably the record's most interesting instrument choice — is striking when it first comes in warbling and dirge-y and fluttery and airy like the birds, but eventually feels like a meandering distraction. Still, Where In Our Woods is a very good album. (Western Vinyl)