Sea of Tranquility - The Perfect Map
With two excellent albums already under their belt, Elephants Of Scotland return with The Perfect Map, an album title alluding to the non-conceptual concept of life's journey that runs through the songs, while not necessarily interlinking them. Birth, death, religion, God are all referenced and yet no conclusions are drawn. Instead questions are asked, answers are sought and the listener is left to construct their own conclusions. It's a refreshing approach to topics that, in truth, are covered often by bands in the progressive rock sphere, but usually from an already decided view point. On The Perfect Map, it feels like EoS are searching for the path that will lead them to safety and enlightenment, rather than pointing you towards theirs and even then the journey is all about inner spirits instead of higher ones.
All this clever, questioning word play would, of course, count for little if the music wasn't equally enchanting. With a sound based in traditional US progressive elements (the band are from Burlington, Vermont, not Scotland, where there aren't elephants either) strongly established on their previous output, EoS take the bold step of fiddling with what seemed like a perfectly oiled machine. Somehow they make it purr with even more efficiency. Pulling in folky elements, adding in wider ranging keyboard textures and even dipping toes in Eastern flavours, the Elephants have proudly taken the step that plants their own distinctive sound in the ground for all to hear.
The drum blast and juddering riff that introduces "Sun-Dipped Orphans and the Wizard's Teapot" (now that's a song title) is keenly offset by cascades of piano and keyboards, before bright lead lines, acoustic guitar and harmony vocals change the mood altogether. The staccato chorus adds a loosely Steven Wilson like feel and yet the release that is then revealed could only be Elephants Of Scotland (although fans of Spock's Beard will also love it!). The title track proves another joyous journey, Eastern themes giving way to an unsettling slow build of clicked and clanged percussion and plaintive vocals. It's a tense structure and one made all the more impressive by the manner in which EoS stick with it longer than most would, creating an almost palpable tension before another expertly melodic burst offers respite. There's a loose Marillion undercurrent, more in form than sound, before a claustrophobic vocal and sumptuous keyboard solo introduces a surprising, but welcome Vangelis-like edge.
With Adam Rabin, John Whyte and Dan McDonald sharing vocal duties, the focus constantly shifts from song to song and when they combine, as they do on "Swing The Gavel", the effect is quite wonderful. Here the melody lines and use of wood and wind introduces an unexpectedly English folk side and it's this new found variation that confirms that Elephants Of Scotland have really struck gold on their third album, the mix of strong word play and musical mastery quite something.
Elephants Of Scotland have been a well kept secret for too long. With The Perfect Map in their hand, there's no doubt they've found the route to success, and with a fair wind at their back, hopefully a seat at the top table of the prog world.