To an extent, the weird Athens of old that brought the Elephant Six collective together has been in a chokehold for two decades. Communities formed around cheap houses and shoestring budgets, thrifty venues and downtown hangouts; now, as luxury apartments cast their long shadows over Clayton, Urban Outfitters sits primly on the same block as Wuxtry, and college students demand quick access to corporate cups of coffee, the true eccentrics have drifted further away from the scene.
Now, townies being townies, many refuse to leave. As a result, ex-E6ers just keep shuffling through projects, each striking flint for the special sparks they could once ignite. Elf Power, though, might be one of the last full groups from that first vanguard; as contemporaries of the mythical Olivia Tremor Control, they once mystified audiences with their lo-fi transmissions and avant-garde odysseys. Now, thirteen albums later, Andrew Rieger’s supergroup sound content to sit back on porch swings and reminisce. For Twitching in Time, despite some lovely lyrics and solid cosmic riffs, hugs close to the ground, even more so than its predecessor Sunlight on the Moon. Granted, Elf Power in the natural world can still hex many modern psych bands with their wordcraft — lines like “dissolving like the dog shit in the rain” resonate way more than vague ruminations on death and the universe, or whatever — but they’ll spin their yarns from lawn chairs, not castle walls.
Indeed, Twitching in Time points further back than the band’s own surreal history. There’s a certain buoyancy, a certain sparkle in the fidelity like the glow of aged white wine, that evokes the more melodic work of auteurs like Brian Eno and John Cale; indeed, the rousing tale of “Sniper on the Balcony” sounds like a lost single from Here Come the Warm Jets. Meanwhile, the gentle but jagged ache of “All Things Combined” borrows a pinch of collegiate grit from the likes of R.E.M, though certainly not enough to derail Elf Power’s usual trajectory.
That’s half the trouble, really. These specks of influence lend subtle changes in hue, but the overall picture of Twitching in Time is rather monochrome. Once you’ve crossed the sitar-tinted “In a Room,” you’ve heard just about every trick that Elf Power can pull, from the sneaky trumpets in the interstellar pulse of “Ten Dollars on the Ground,” to the slow-burning piano ballad of “Watery Shreds,” to the congenial steel guitars on “Cat Trapped in the Wall.” And bless Rieger for reprising his role as the friendly neighborhood seer, but the narrow limits of his voice become painfully clear within the first 10 minutes. The Superchunk-styled combo of “Melted Down” and “Twitching in Time” fit together like two halves of the same daydream, something like buying groceries with bottle caps: pleasant, and surreal if you think about it, but mundane in the moment.
And yet, even with all these safety nets and hammocks, Elf Power can still jump toward the void every now and then. While lesser bands would’ve started on a more obvious firecracker like “Ten Dollars on the Ground,” Twitching in Time unfolds with “Halloween Out Walking,” a haunted little opener comprised of existential riddles and squawking tape hiss. It’s a rare flash of suspense, like when you’ve just come home on a Friday night and found your apartment unlocked; you assure yourself that everything’s OK, yet you still hold your breath as you fumble for the light switch.
That’s the closest we get to any genuine oddity from Elf Power this time around, though. On the whole, Twitching in Time mirrors the current state of Athens: the messy charm is still there, hidden in pockets and behind the veil of night, but stand in the center of town, and you’ll wonder if it’s passed you by.
Elf Power will perform on Thurs., May 18 at 529 and Fri., May 19 at the Georgia Theatre. Both shows are with Tobin Sprout (GBV). For the 529 show, doors are at 9 p.m. Admission is $15-17. 21+ to enter. For the Georgia Theatre, doors open at 10:30 p.m. Admission is $10-12. 21+ to enter.