New Jersey art-rock outfit Elk City present their seventh album ‘Undertow’. Founded by Renée LoBue and Ray Ketchem, Elk City is rounded out by Luna’s Sean Eden, Richard Baluyut (Versus) and Chris Robertson (Psychedelic Furs side project Feed, Punch Havana).

From the opening title track, ‘Undertow’ sucks you into a different kind of record with peculiar pop constructs built of rare materials, found only in the wilds behind Magic Door Recording Studio in Montclair, which legendary studio designer George Augspurger helped transform into a freeform studio where vintage microphones, modern studio gear, and bespoke sound tuning elevate and inspire.

This is where Elk City has meticulously built this record and this band a whole other way. Songs often begin with improvised live-jams that become load-bearing beams for layers and layers of instrumentation and harmonies. It’s a process that both asks questions and answers them. What is a pop song? (Whatever we say it is) How many guitars are too many? (none) Should we add strings here? (Yes! No! Strings and what else?) Elk City’s live shows also push boundaries of what a band should be, adding and subtracting, sometimes pulling James Baluyut (Versus) into the vortex, sometimes playing acoustic, never afraid of what ifs and what is rock, really?

Even after seven albums, Elk City are still deliberately hard to define, still seekers, unafraid to shed this life and lead the listener on a journey to new sounds and feelings. And as long as they remain curious, they will report back what they have found, with albums like Undertow, packed with siren songs to lure you in and fill you with a devout ecstasy, body and soul. You came here looking for something. And now you know.

Welcome to Elk City.

Like their previous album ‘Above the Water’, this record is inspired by the band’s love of documentaries like ‘The Source Family’ and ‘Wild, Wild Country’ – films that explore the allure of cults and extreme alternative lifestyles. Earlier, the band released the singles ‘Tried To Move On’ and ‘Strong (You’re Not Alone)’.

“‘Undertow’ is the companion piece to our 2022 album ‘Above the Water’. Both albums were recorded simultaneously. We actually considered releasing them together as a double album. ‘Undertow’ is the darker of the two. Numerous songs on ‘Undertow’ are long and sprawling and take the listener on unexpected adventures. Of course, there are a few pop songs too. Like all our albums, there are pop songs, but Undertow has a musical darkness that is unique to this release, yet lyrically it seems to be about independence and personal strength,” says Ray Ketchem.

Renée LoBue adds, “The most interesting thing about these records (to me) is that the water theme was not planned. The water theme revealed itself to us after. Even more ironic: The cover art pieces that were chosen for both records have water themes. I created both pieces of art before the records were done. At the time I didn’t realize they were part of a larger water theme expressed in the music. Upon completion, we were able to look at both the art + the music with a way more objective lens. We could see the hidden theme looking back at us. It had been there all along.”

Ketchem, a renowned producer (Guided By Voices, Luna, Gramercy Arms) recorded, mixed and mastered the ‘Undertow’ album, which is being released via Montclair, NJ-based Magic Door Record Label, co-founded several years ago by Guided by VoicesKevin March, Ketchem and artist Renée LoBue.

The ‘Undertow’ album is available across fine digital outlets, including Apple MusicSpotify and Bandcamp. On December 1, Elk City will perform, along with Ted Leo, in their hometown of Montclair, NJ.

Previous articleCities In Dust – Frenchy and the Punk (reviewed by Dave Franklin)
Next articleOver Again – Moonlight Rhythm Society (reviewed by Dave Franklin)
Musician, scribbler, historian, gnostic, seeker of enlightenment, asker of the wrong questions, delver into the lost archives, fugitive from the law of averages, blogger, quantum spanner, left footed traveller, music journalist, zenarchist, freelance writer, reviewer and gemini. People have woken up to worse.

Leave a Reply