The Elation - Purpose and Meaning Released June 12th, 2007
I'm questioning myself nowadays whether I'm still a fan of pop-rock. Lately I've found myself falling in line behind some of the current Chicago greats, but outside of what the Windy City is fostering seems uninteresting and a complete waste of time. Last year saw me first discovering The Elation. Their self-titled EP was a departure from usual debuts in that it was very much a concept album, and they toyed with the idea to an impressive degree. This month sees the band releasing their follow-up EP, Purpose and Meaning. Pandering to the same crowd, they aren't about to not one-up their last effort. They've done the latter in every way possible.
Following themes of money, fame, and sex; Purpose and Meaning is not only ridiculously catchy, but theres something attractively mature beneath the album's candy-coated shell. Hell, even the album art sums up the lyrical factor nicely: a Chicago billboard behind it all, setting the scene, with money and lipstick representing various vices. The lyrics, sung expertly by Kyle Fasel, Spencer Birkner, and Dan Pizzoferrato, are still not at the level I'd like to see the band operating at, but they make up for it with the drive to get the point across whether or not its the most original way of saying it or not. Still, verses like, "I'm a lover that lies and you're a liar that loves/But aren't we all just lovers?/Aren't we all just liars?" are fine by me.
Instrumentally, I believe, is where the band surpasses their previous EP the best. Everything this time around is coordinated for maximum punch to the T. "Business Before Love" should be noted for Ross Birkner's sleek synth lead-in and a seismic outro courtesy of a Austin "Sticks" Neely providing the perfect backbone while Spencer and Dan send it home with one hell of a breakdown. The Elation are very freeform within the typical pop-rock expectations. They'll surprise you at least twice, if not through the entire album, with what they're getting out there and almost thinking on their feet about how to switch it up from song to song.
There's no reason why fans of theAudition and Motion City Soundtrack shouldn't immediately cling to The Elation. They have the makings of something I can feel will only get bigger with each release. While Purpose and Meaning won't turn them into a household name, it accentuates the band's drive to make a difference in the genre. Hopefully you'll allow them to do so because this EP is extremely rewarding and something I think you'll still be revisiting come time for these guys surprise us with a full-length.
I'm a fan of The Elation; I've been following them since this time last year, and I was completely blown away by their first album. "Lifetime..." had the potential to be a Top 40 hit, and "Aliens Pt. 2" and "Closer to Closure" would be the first single on any other power-punk album. Put simply, that EP showed the most promise of any band in the South Surburbs. It disappoints me, then, to say that Purpose and Meaning leaves this listener feeling like they've broken that promise. Instead, the band has fallen victim to the generic, Fueled by Ramen-esque sound so dominant in indie this year.
This new EP has grand aspirations; the instrumentation and production show the difference (and improvement) that a year of relentless practice and touring makes. Yet, all the technical skill in the world doesn't mean anything if the content isn't there. In P&M's case, the arrangements, hooks, and even the lyrics all feel tired and cliché, like something ripped out Power-Pop for Dummies.
For example, take one cringe-inducing chorus, "Let's play hide and seek/between your bedsheets/and pretend like there's no tomorrow". Though admittedly the most egregious lyrical offender on the album, the creative wordplay and statements of their debut have been masked beneath corny word-rock Cute is What We Aim For would be embarrassed to sing.
Most of the other songs on the album suffer equally. They simply come across as bland and uninspired, mistakable as +44 or Boys Like Girls synth-remixes, or don't come across as all, little more than energetic background noise. Even the attempt at an acoustic heartbreaker, "Hollywood Lights", feels dredged from other artists, a Plain-White-T's-meets-Paramore mash-up that ends up sinking beneath it's own grandeur by the end of the song.
Admittedly, there are a few standout moments on the CD. "Business Before Love" is a terrific single, though perhaps the impact has been lessened by the relentless promotion via Myspace (by embedding the player inside every one of their bulletins for months, it's likely the first five seconds of the synth opening will follow me until the day I die), and the choral finish to "Characters" gorgeously ties up what was merely a good song until the conclusion. But these feel like few and far between in the big picture of the EP, and that disappoints enough to hurt.
Really, the biggest problem Purpose and Meaning suffers from is trying too damn hard. It's common knowledge now among Chi-town scenesters that Fueled by Ramen has shown an interest in The Elation, and this album comes off like a reflection of that aspiration; too processed, too flashy, and most of all, lacking the raw ambition of their first EP. While I think that FBR would be an incredible fit for this quintet, the way to reach that lofty goal isn't by compromising the sound and diluting the style so unique to the band. Purpose and Meaning is one step forward, three steps back for the boys from the suburbs.
At the rate they're going, we'll be seeing another release from The Elation about twelve months down the line. I hope that another year will be enough to let these five Chi-town boys rediscover what made them "the next big thing" from their inception.