Tabitha Elkins – Upside Down World – Album Review
Interesting stuff from Tabitha here…she’s got an album that kind of plays like an open-book journal. With various states of recordings and different methods clearly being applied to how the music is being made – Upside Down World is a great title for a record like this that shifts all over the place and distorts the reality you know. What I really liked throughout my first listen to this record was that I absolutely, could not place exactly what Tabitha might be going for…like, you know…what are the goals and such? Because on the one hand…I think she’s written songs with a lot of character…so in my head, she’s influenced by iconic songwriters like Kristin Hersh, Tanya Donnelly and Kim Deal – around that era of sound/style is where I’d personally put Tabitha Elkins’ music from my own impression. As much as I’d ever hope that might be the case – I still felt like I wasn’t quite sure that Tabitha would even know those artists by name and might be influenced by another entire set of artists & sounds, going after an altogether different goal. So it depends on where she’s looking to take her material…she could become another folk-legend out there…but is that what she’d want?
I used to know more concretely what I feel about music than this. I’m truly in an Upside Down World here and feeling like I’m a little lost in the land of artistic-pursuit. I mean…at least that’s what I think she’s going for…it seems much like Tabitha is more focused on a unique experience and art than creating traditional hooks for the most part, though it does start off with a branch-off of standard blues-riffs in the opening track “Bitter Blues.” The recording itself is a complete trip…I’ll fully admit those guitars sound like they were recorded onto a tape, left out in the sun to cook, stretch and bend and then re-inserted into the groove…the result is a purely psychedelic-slice of the blues. Tabitha sounds like she’s got the confidence, rhythm and feels the groove in the melody of the words she’s written. It’s kind of got a whole Jefferson Airplane thing going on…and I can dig that. The production plays a large part in making this entire album a sonic-trip to listen to and “Bitter Blues” comes out as clear as evidence gets. I would assume that Upside Down World is a DIY effort…there’s a few things I might feel like I’d change in those production-values myself personally…but I think she gets the idea across with solid passion still coming through her performance clearly.
“Candyland” has a bit of that same filter or bizarre production to it – but the ideas come through even stronger and Tabitha really goes for some big notes on this tune. Good guitars, great bass, solid elements that fill in the music with effects & what-not…I really liked what she did in the chorus, but struggled with accepting the verse as readily. I like the lyrics I’m catching…it was the flow itself, which seemed a little too bold in its tone and similar to the punched-up way she sings the chorus and I think if she softened a bit throughout the verse, it would make that chorus pop-out every bit as much as it deserves to. Excellent guitar-solo in this cut…it’s short but perfection…and I really think she’s got herself a strong hook in the chorus of “Candyland” – there’s potential there that you can hear and Elkins puts in quite the entertaining and dynamic performance that fires her through a whole range of notes and tones with power.
So…make no mistake…when you play with the confidence that Tabitha plays with – there’s value in that. It honestly kind of makes you root for a song, artist or band even more when you hear that they’re committed to their material for better or worse. Take a track like “Pool Of Tears” for example – again, if you’re telling me she’s going after that Kristin Hersh style…then I say great job. But if we’re looking for more of a smoothed-out sound to the whole thing, it would become a totally different conversation. So again…it comes down to character and whether or not you can admire that in ideas & music. I can. I dig what she’s got going on in “Pool Of Tears” – do I want it to come through as clearly and well-produced as “Daisy Chain” the song to follow is? Of course I do! But that’s not the way music works…and real art can be applied to a multi-universe’s worth of atmospheres in one’s creativity. Tabitha makes a clear choice with “Pool Of Tears” in my opinion…one that says I’m here to create art as it is, maybe even right in the moment…and let’s just see what happens out of that spontaneity and creativity. I can respect that. It doesn’t lead her to a million dollars – and I can’t help but feel like Tabitha knows it and doesn’t mind at all. I feel like she smiles at the notion of doing anything with any kind of standard approach to it and politely moves right on to wherever her own instincts might lead her. Blaze that trail sister – I’m with ya so far.
“Daisy Chain” proves to me though, that she’s moving away from more comfortable and familiar terrain like what we experienced at the beginning of the record into less-predictable, more creative territory throughout the songs to come. “Daisy Chain” was kind of like a super-rad interlude…with its guitar-riffs coming out in stuttered-shots…reminded me of The Breeders “R.O.I.” in a way, even though the overall sound is entirely different. “Daisy Chain” is about as much of a trip as you can pack into a less-than two-minute song…it might just be me on this one, but I really liked this track!
Character matters. If it didn’t play a role, songs like the title-track “Upside Down World” would fall flat; it’s a basic chord structure that comes to life through the way that Tabitha chooses to sing this song. To further my point on the artistic nature of her music, have a real good listen to the words in “Upside Down World” and you’ll hear exactly what I’ve been trying to explain all along. Tabitha has really managed to let herself loose and she gets right into each atmosphere and idea the opportunities in the music present to her – you can’t help but dig that. I think she’s written a seriously powerful folk-tune with “Upside Down World” with bold words, great imagery, sentiment – and I really think this song explains the thoughts & feelings that Tabitha wants to express sincerely – and she does. Ending is a bit jagged & full-stop…but again, she’s got a great idea in place here.
No question about “Edge Of Nowhere” – that’s solid work right there with a great bass-line and beat that grooves and moves this song with intensity and palatable rhythm. Great ideas in the backing vocals and the energy in this tune…I think Tabitha’s vocals have some of their best moments here. “Edge Of Nowhere” bends and slides around its rhythm and groove through the music and Elkins slips and slides right into this one hitting her part with confidence. Super-catchy and truly charismatic – “Edge Of Nowhere” was definitely a cut that worked for me…you can hear Tabitha control the madness around her like she’s conducting an orchestra.
You’d think the last song that would make a person crack a smile is the one called “Gallows Pole Blues” – but there you have it…I smiled because…well…this shouldn’t work should it? Somehow it does. I’ve listened to this song so many times to try to make sense of what’s happening in the music here…and for the life of me, I still can’t tell if there are truly timing issues happening or not. At the end of the day, the bar, the verse, the chorus…it all still lines-up exactly as it should…so I feel like I have to fault myself for not hearing how this really does make sense. That being said though…still wouldn’t have been my favorite. Not only is it in an extremely tough spot in between two of her most energetic songs on the record, but the pounding piano-line was a little on the aggressive/grating side for me personally. It’s a song about the gallows…I get that it’s not supposed to be necessarily an uplifting song…but yeah…tone-wise, atmosphere and mood of this song just seemed heavier somehow on this somber track. I appreciate the theatrical-elements and ideas to the performance…I even appreciate that it doesn’t quite make sense to my brain yet makes sense in its own structure somehow, just not a track I felt like I’d seek out.
“Captain Kirk” – hmm. How do I feel about this one? I really like the beat, I like the flow, I like the rhythm and I like the way the vocals flow in this song…BUT…where did the confidence of Tabitha run off to? At this point in the record…we’ve heard her really hit the notes she needs to boldly…and for whatever reason, you can hear she’s slightly holding back and pulling-punches on this one a bit. Wasn’t so much the verse…I think she does a pretty solid job there…but I definitely felt like that added punch in her voice went missing in the chorus. Yeah…I’d pinpoint it to that spot really…I like what she’s doing in every spot around it…really sounds Donnelly and Hersh throughout this cut – I love both those singers too and they barely hit a single song 100% of the time all the way through themselves. The electro atmosphere of the really shines and the ending of “Captain Kirk” really worked well…solid writing of the last thirty-seconds or so to really take this track home. Overall it’s still not a cut I’d skip – “Captain Kirk” is a pretty damn entertaining tune.
The real gem and jewel of this record though…is one of the most innocent, sweet and unsuspecting songs I’ve heard this year from the independent scene – “I’ve Got Your Name” is about as gorgeous as a melody and performance can get. Is it flawless? No! Does it need to be? No! Again…for me it’s about the idea and the approach to it that matters – and I loved the way that Tabitha sings this song. Melody-wise, she’s absolutely struck gold here…especially for an audiophile like me; like much of this record, there’s real texture to this recording you feel like you can reach out and touch. I’ve always admitted to being a hopeless sucker when it comes to beautiful melody though…and I have no problem admitting now just how addicted I am to what Tabitha’s created on “I’ve Got Your Name” – it’s beautiful. The music on this song is absolutely stunning…it’s like you can reach right back into the ballrooms of music’s past and catch a glimpse of the essence that began to create the sweetness and foundations of indie-pop. Innovative, sparkling and a truly beautiful moment in time – Tabitha stopped the entire world around me for three & a half-minutes with “I’ve Got Your Name,” I couldn’t get enough of it.
She’s referenced faith in many different songs throughout this record and ends on that note with “Blues For Jesus” – another highlight performance for her vocals, I think she finished this strongly. The melody is comforting and inviting…Tabitha’s got a great swaying-blues style on this last track and you can always hear the connection from her voice to the music, which I truly respect in songwriting. “Blues For Jesus” also highlights that in each of these ideas, she’s really brought something unique to the table that works on one level or another. Great classic sound to her voice on this cut…Tabitha does really well when she channels from the history of music like this…and I think she did herself proud by ending the record with a solidly realized idea coming to life like this.
Interesting stuff though…just like I said at the very beginning. I still don’t feel like I’ve got her fully figured out myself – but I like mystique like that in music I listen to. It’s always been a privilege to be here listening to the independent artists, future superstars and bands of tomorrow grow and evolve over time – and everything I’ve heard here on Upside Down World from Tabitha Elkins absolutely provokes the curiosity in me. I’ll be absolutely interested to hear where she takes her music from here – she’s got confidence and character really working well in her favor and her ideas/creativity could very well take her any place at all…and that kind of freedom of expression in music is always exciting!
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