During the mid-nineties, the Elephant Six collective monopolized that area of the genre continuum between which bubblegum pop, psychedelic rock, and musique concrete existed. Recent years, however, have seen E6's leading lights floundering or disappearing into obscurity. The Apples in Stereo refuse to live up to their potential and make the masterpiece everyone knows they're capable of, and Neutral Milk Hotel refuses to make any new music at all! The Olivia Tremor Control, my favorite E6 band, has split into two different bands, only one of which, the Circulatory System, even approaches the original band's greatness. Elf Power continues its gradual descent into mediocrity, and Of Montreal, despite shaping up to be both E6's weirdest and most consistent act, fails to receive nearly as much attention as the aforementioned bands. If E6 continues its downward slide, whom will we be able to turn to for pop songs that bridge the gap between now and the LBJ era?
Gabriel Walsh's nebulous home-recording project Your Team Ring establishes itself as a worthy candidate with its debut album Homelife. It's a concept album batty enough to compete with that of any pre-punk LSD-inspired song cycle. An unnamed protagonist (who, for clarity, I'll refer to as Gabriel) clones himself, and travels to outer space, leaving the clone on Earth to tend to the Gabriel's errands. While in space, Gabriel decides to return home after discovering that the clone has stolen his girlfriend. On the way back, though, Gabriel's landing gear gets stuck, and he ends up passing through a number of strange places (the Fourth Dimension, the Parade of Mechanical Ants, the Ocean of Bone). During his travels, he somehow loses his skin, rendering him unable to survive once he finally returns to Earth. At the last minute, though, the clone decides to give his own skin to Gabriel, killing himself to save his creator's life. I'm not sure that this is the exact plot that Your Team Ring wished to convey, since some of the lyrics are very open-ended. Besides, you don't need to know all of the details to truly enjoy Homelife.
Of course, Your Team Ring possess the same mastery of melody that the best Elephant Six bands are known for, as well as a similar gift for making the most out of lo-tech equipment. However, Homelife's primary strength is its arrangements. Tasteful employment of strings, sound effects, and ethnic instrumentation ensures that choruses stand out from verses. For instance, the beginning of "Brother Clone" is what one would imagine the music of a Buddhist temple to sound like, with the rhythm outlined by booming gongs and staccato mandolins. The chorus, however, uses traditional rock instrumentation, as a sampled falsetto voice interrupts the nasal, high-pitched harmonies. "Mobile Home" employs the opposite strategy by sounding like a normal rock song in the verses, yet shifting into a cacophony of seesawing violins and flanged voices during the chorus. "Parade of Mechanical Ants" uses organic percussion to imitate the glitch backbeats of IDM, and "Change Directions" pits countrified banjos against randomly panned drum machines. Proper songs are followed by brief instrumentals, such as the drum circle hypnotism of "The Love Life of Clones," and the synthesizer-driven raga of "The Short Journey Toward Home." A vaudeville influence pops up whenever the character Space Trolley Man appears to deliver Gabriel bad news. Homelife saves its best for last, with a title track that George Harrison would leap out of his grave to write, from its quasi-mystical lyrics to its leisurely slide guitars.
I have to warn you that when I wrote "nasal, high-pitched harmonies" in the preceding paragraph, I MEANT IT. Walsh sings like he was born with a head cold, and this quirk may irritate some listeners. That caveat aside, I congratulate Your Team Ring for such a seamless union of high-concept experimentation and low-fidelity pop, especially now that the Elephant Six logo is no longer a failsafe guarantee of quality.