Say Hi to Growing Up
Eric Elbogen used to make emo that sounded embarrassed to be emo. His songs, recorded by his lonesome on his laptop, charmed with a bleary-eyed youthfulness, cross-breeding lyrics about spaceships and not getting laid with piecemeal production sensibilities—he played his instruments just well enough to get by, offering his one-man-band odes in half-whispered, closely miked breaths, possibly out of fear of waking his apartment neighbors. (“Hey, kids—turn down that damn amp machine!”)
Is this even the same person? On Um, Uh Oh, Elbogen’s seventh full-length, he sounds like he’s undergoing a confidence readjustment in real time, adopting a raspy, forceful vocal delivery and a thicker production punch that suggests that he’s either purchased better recording software or moved in next to more lenient neighbors (“Just make sure you stop the racket by midnight!”). Since his last album, Oohs and Aahs Elbogen’s voice has toughened up and acquired drawl, suggesting he’s either smoked about 10,000 cartons of Marlboros since 2009 or he’s spent most of that time studying the back catalogues of Arcade Fire and Wilco.
As far as songs are concerned,Um, Uh Oh is pretty much business as usual, which is to say it’s full of songs neither revelatory nor skippable. The tracks are raw, stripped-down, and crisp, embracing his newfound production polish with aplomb. “There’s a trigger somewhere / Let’s pull it,” he emotes in the restrained, about-to-boil chorus of opener/highlight “Dots on Maps,” a palm-muted pop strutter on which he sounds a hell of a lot like a more economical, less perplexing Jeff Tweedy. The influences are a lot more bold this time out—he also gets his Tweedy on for “Devils,” a sexy, slightly off-key blues lament, and on “All the Pretty Ones,” he sounds like a gruffer Win Butler.
The guy certainly knows his way around a hook—on “Take Ya Dancin’,” he promises a prospective partner, “I’ll take you dancin’ anytime you wanna go.” It’s a joyous moment, filled with melody and hormonal jitters, the drums popping like butterflies, guitars scurrying like strobe lights at a school dance—The prom’s over, and Elbogen’s there, giving you “the stare” in the middle of a vacant, streamer-ridden dance floor, promising to love you in the morning.
By album’s end, you might just believe the sneaky bastard. Elbogen hasn’t written any classics on Um, Uh Oh, but he’s emerged with another album full of quietly memorable songs that are difficult to shake.