All We Have is Now is the second album from Scottish band Elephant Sessions, a self-styled ‘neo-trad’ quintet who gained critical acclaim and a loyal following with their 2014 debut, Elusive Highland Beauty. Now the boys are back, releasing a second album which pushes the edges of their folk-rock sound, and shows that they are clearly not content to rest on their laurels.
Traditional instrumentation is used to showcase the imagination of the band across the album, as they create inventive and multi-layered arrangements which will keep the listeners on their toes. Wet Field Day is an initial track with both power and pace, where rapid fiddle playing is combined with punchy guitar and mandolin. This would seem standard for a band of their ilk, except that it’s all set to catchy hooks and grooves that wouldn’t be out of place coming from Two Door Cinema Club. This sense of groove is something that flows throughout the album. Take the Misty Badger Set, which features skilled mandolin playing in a swung tune with a jazz vibe, and I Used to Be A Nice Boy, which has fantastic soul and a hint of bluegrass to keep things interesting.
There is some skilled and rapid playing on show, but this isn’t an album unwisely stuffed with fast-paced tunes, and Elephant Sessions don’t need to rely on speed to show off their technical skills. In fact, they can be more subtle than you might give them credit for. A perfect example of this delicate touch is Fran’s, a soft track with an understated and carefully crafted soundscape of a background, a great move which allows the raw emotion of the fiddle to shine through.
Indeed every track is a complex creation of many layers, and my personal favourite is Lament for Lost Dignity, where mandolin and electric guitar weave together in a sweet and laid-back tune. It’s a swirling and contemporary arrangement that uses all sorts of intriguing techniques, from heavy strings to electronic influences, and it shows that folk music can also make use of the lush orchestral sound that has been creeping into mainstream pop records.
Elephant Sessions know how to create and arrange an absorbing album, and just when you think you have them pegged, they take another turn. A more drum and bass feel builds in the background of Tingles, and the rhythm section does a fantastic job of providing interest and texture. It’s a track full of witty touches, including a great mandolin and guitar breakdown not long after the two-minute mark, and the weaving of vocals, electronic and acoustic instrumentation is subtle whilst seeming fresh and innovative. This innovation aside, they can’t help returning to their roots to finish with Doofer, a sure-fire crowd-pleaser which begins with guitar feedback, and then rattles along at a blistering pace with a heavy beat. Like many of the tracks on the album, it’s sure to be electrifying live.
All We Have Is Now is an album evocative of lazy days and party nights, and one which shows the band’s versatility and willingness to stray from their familiar rock-inspired territory. With tunes that rely on polish as much as on pace, Elephant Sessions are certainly not standing still in the race to create the next defining sound for folk music.
All We Have Now is out on 19th May 2017