During their brief career, Louisville's Elliott released three albums of original material and a final, posthumously released, live studio album. Although talented and hardworking they never really achieved a huge amount of commercial success, possibly because they refused to fit neatly into any one genre. Their debut, U.S. Songs, is almost melodic emo, but it's also a little alt-rock, and maybe a few other things besides. They also lean toward a more abstract lyrical style, which suits the mature, pleasantly aloof feel of the music, but offers no easy or immediate focal points for the listener. It all fits together perfectly, though, creating a superblytextured sound which reaches from oh-so-easy drifts to crashing waves. Yes, it takes a little effort to fully delve into the record, but the surface alone is so considered, so obviously well arranged, that the process itself is warm and welcoming, new insight born in every repeat listen.
Above all, U.S. Songs is an album about the often ignored, deeply tangible border and relationship between melancholy and bliss. The clarity of Chris Higdon's voice provides an ethereal, introspective quality to the imagery of the words, as they quietly float above the sweetly dulled guitars which bring "The Conversation" to life, or the delicate, calm eye within "Alchemy as a Rhythm". In stark but beautiful contrast to these lulls, Higdon often presses his voice to the very edges of a shout, no more so than amongst the pounding, expansive chords of "Safety Pin Explanation", and it's this constant swell and recede which brilliantly evokes the complexity of human emotion – the secret, unspoken pleasure at the heart of sadness and regret, the taint of anger and frustration in the very fabric of joy. Like all esoteric, abstract art, U.S. Songs is about ideas that can't easily be explored, feelings that defy simple definition; but, crucially, Elliott provide an elegant, dreamily melodic backdrop to their thoughts, making them all the stronger and more meaningful.
They may have failed to find an extensive audience, but in this way at least, they truly succeeded.