Late Greats: Elliott’s US Songs

US Songs
1999; Revelation Records

My Rating: 9/10

When US SONGS was released in 1998, ELLIOTT was one of the most hyped bands in Louisville’s all ages scene. Forming around ex-Falling Forward frontman Chris Higdon, the band had previously released one magnificent two-song 7″ and made several increasingly great live appearances around town clad in white and black, performing with the kind of vigor and intensity usually reserved for Olympic athletes. They also represented something entirely refreshing in a scene full of cheesy hardcore and corny pop-punk acts.

With ELLIOTT having gone the way of extinction, the band remains best known for its more atmospheric work on FALSE CATHEDRALS and SONG IN THE AIR. Not to take anything away from those two magnificent records, I’ll always cherish US SONGS as something utterly unique and special above them. It’s not that the musicianship is any better herein – the truth is ELLIOTT occasionally sounds clunky on US SONGS as opposed to the fluid sound of the later records. It’s simply that the ideas overflow on this record, and the band sounds bright and exceedingly unimpressed with itself. And did I mention that this was the band’s only power pop record? When I say power pop, I put the stress on POWER.

The record opens in a burst of energy with the gorgeous “Miracle,” before transitioning to the instrumental “Intro.” What Elliott lacks in musical prowess they make up for in melodic sensibility, and nowhere is that more evident than on “Intro.” The track develops around a simple, slightly distorted guitar line, as pretty as it is powerful. “The Conversation” builds to a dynamic climax, and “Dionysus Burning” is about as straight forward as you’re going to get on this record. Although this recording of “The Watermark High” is inferior to the early recording found on the band’s In Transit single (featuring first drummer Ben Lord), it nevertheless fits in well with the rest of the record.

“Every Train That Passes” rocks it all mid-tempo fashion, and the driving “Suitcase and Atoms” is a definite highlight. My personal favorite is track 8, the short epic “Second Story Skyscaper.” This is one of those tracks that seems pieced together from various songwriting fragments, but the sum is greater than the parts in this case. “Alchemy as a Rhythm” gets things moving in a hard rock direction again, and features some of Higdon’s best vocals.

“Ten Cent Inquiry” and “Safety Pin Explanation” close the record in minor key fashion, a downer twinge after a mostly bright-eyed record. I suppose it was indicative of the direction Elliott was to take. Within the next year or so they would release a few more singles of a decidedly less sunny sound, and by the time FALSE CATHEDRALS hit in 2001, the band was completely transformed into the atmospheric emo champions of common renown.

But as I said before, the Elliott of US SONGS is the Elliott I will always remember as the greatest incarnation. What this band could do with a few guitar chords and a lot of enthusiasm still blows me away. If you’ve never heard this first LP from the seminal Louisville band, or if you wrote Elliott off after hearing their later work, give US SONGS a chance.

Have you heard US SONGS? What’s your opinion?

2 Responses to Late Greats: Elliott’s US Songs

  1. Johann says:

    It’s good to see that people still appreciate Elliott. I agree with you that during the In Transit/US Songs phase the band was at its best. Since I was living in Europe during that time I never got to see them live. When they final came to tour, Jonathan and Jay had already left the band.

    Their show was a real disappointment for me. All the songs they played from their first record were hardly recognizable. The tempo was much slower and Benny’s U2 effects didn’t add anything, quite the contrary.

    Since then I’ve been looking for live footage from their early years but couldn’t find anything. Would you know about any sources?

    Any hints are appreciated.

    • John says:

      unfortunately, i don’t know of any footage from this era myself, but you might try asking on the message board…folks over there seem to have a lot of stuff just lying around from “back in the day” and are usually pretty willing to share if you ask

      fyi, you should check out higdon’s new band frontiers, they have a myspace page with some tracks playing, pretty good stuff, less atmospheric, more dc-influenced

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