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COLUMN: New album from Elephant Micah is indie-folk with an electronic twist



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Members of the band Elephant Micah pose for a photograph. The band will be performing at 7 p.m. on Sept. 22 at The Bishop Bar. Courtesy Photo Buy Photos

Accidentally discovering Elephant Micah, the Bloomington-native, indie-folk singer Joseph O’Connell, from a promotional Bandcamp email counts as one of the highlights I experienced during my preparation of heading back to classes at IU. 

O’Connell’s latest album, “Genericana,” is definitely one to play while relaxing — like that’s going to happen again before December — walking to campus or hanging out on a rainy day. The blend of computer-generated sounds and delightful indie-folk are calming for the most part, but demand attention. 

It's probably not the album you want to play when you are trying to get homework done. Let’s face it, listening to a new album because it’s going to help with studying is a little lie we all tell ourselves.

Elephant Micah had Bonnie “Prince” Billy on back-up vocals and harmonies for his 2015 album “Where in Our Woods” and Hiss Golden Messenger covered several of O’Connell’s tunes in 2012, of which “Still Life Blues” is my favorite. These collaborations are both impressive and understated, since both have received minimal views on YouTube. So, take this chance to discover a great band before the rest of the world does — Elephant Micah should have been on NPR's “Tiny Desk” five years ago.

O’Connell said the title of the album is a play on the word “Americana,” which typically represents a genre of music that fuses American country and rock. With “Genericana,” O’Connell wants to encourage people to imagine a different aesthetic that might also represent American identity. 

The first tune, “Surf A,” begins with the sounds of waves crashing on a shore and sirens that sound like seagulls.

O’Connell sings, “If I were a taper, I’d magnetize this tone” over this soundscape with a clear and certainly folk-inspired voice.

"It was easy to me to think about the album in terms of scenes,” O'Connell said about the lyrics. 

The lyrics are less important than the sounds on the songs, he said, but this line about magnetizing a tone, from "Surf A," gives the listener some insight into one of the ways O’Connell, along with his band mate and brother, Matt O’Connell, created some of the effects on the album.

Joseph O’Connell created his own version of a well-known and expensive tape delay, which is an audio effect that delays intentionally to create an echo. He uses a space echo, which uses a loop of magnetic tape to create a warm return or echo.

Matt O’Connell, who is well versed in programming, is responsible for conjuring up a homemade, digital synthesizer by using his own equipment and code, which is shared online. The brothers named the synth, “the mutant.” 

Effects from these two creations can be found throughout the album.

The second song from "Genericana" is the most folk-based of them all and is a good representation of what O’Connell’s previous albums sound like. The warm, reverberant guitar, shaker, base, drums and electronic buzzing combine with O’Connell’s voice for an enchanting song. I would listen to this one while frolicking through a golden field of wheat with the love of my life. It’s that good. 

The third tune is a harder-hitting, alt-folk song I would expect to hear at a crowded basement show that I don’t feel quite cool enough to be at, while “Fire B,” the fourth song, sounds like Neil Young's resonance sung over meditation music. You could definitely do yoga or fall into a strange dreamland to this one. 

The dreamland you might fall into could continue with the fifth song’s other-worldly synth sounds that are reminiscent of a synthetic alarm beeping while a spaceship lands on the moon. The final song, “Surf B,” is a jolt out of fairyland with simple slamming drums and lots of reverb on the guitar. The billowing synth sounds of waves return to close out the album. 

If you are at least 18 years old and interested in seeing O’Connell create these soundscapes live, check out his show at 7 p.m. on Sept. 22 at the Bishop Bar. 

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