Elfin Saddle - Ringing for the Begin Again (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Elfin Saddle

Ringing for the Begin Again (2009)


Montreal's Elfin Saddle are artsy as hell, in more ways than one. The main duo of Emi Honda and Jordan McKenzie bonded first over an affinity for working in sculpture, sculpture assembled from found objects and living plants. So it makes sense that when their collaborations turned to the aural variety that they would scrap together what they could (random percussion, accordion, ukulele, guitar) and make use of natural elements from their upbringings. Elfin Saddle's music is raw, often spooky, and combines instruments in unique ways. Problem is, I'm not terribly into it.

Honda brings her roots into play with the many songs she sings here in Japanese. "Running Sheep" brings an eastern melody with waves of staccato notes, and the pulsing accordion and a Fisher Price My First Drumkit disco beat keep it grounded. There are no Japanese instruments on the record, but the manner in which they implement their instruments may make you think otherwise, with pentatonic melodies and pitch bends typically used with some Japanese string instruments. Indonesian gamelan music comes to mind with their ramshackle collection of tinny cymbals and glockenspiel.

McKenzie sounds a bit like the Frames / Once singer Glen Hansard. McKenzie is born-and-bred Canadian as far as I've read, but he sounds especially Irish on the relatively straight-up folky "Hammer Song," which gets a twist with low-end specialist Nathan Gage lending a tuba bassline. "The Procession" has Gage's most note-worthy brass contribution, but his standup bass work also brings a powerful dynamic to the group.

To their advantage, Elfin Saddle keep their statements concise, with a couple exceptions. Just as the eight-minute "The Living Light" starts to feel long, they bring in the singing saw and I'm listening again. "Temple Daughter" bashes their toy cymbals as McKenzie and Honda repeat "Rising water, temple daughter" and then wail together in a mildly annoying manner. It's under three minutes, though, so it can be tolerated.

Unfortunately, for me Elfin Saddle's interesting parts do not make for a completely enjoyable whole. Perhaps they just fall too far outside my comfort zone, but I'd like to think I'm pretty open-minded. Songs like "Sakura" are hauntingly beautiful, but not something I'll be humming later on. I know that's not the point here, I just don't find myself often craving music like this. They do have an original mishmash going on here and they score points for artistic vision.