I grew up in a logging town. When I was young, the mills ran 24 hours a day and there were enough in Sweet Home, Oregon to blanket the town in ambient noise. People who moved to the town sometimes complained (much like people around airports, I assume) but to me it was background music to life. I was fascinated by the acoustic thumps and loud bangs from the stacking of the lumber which overlaid the screams of the blades as they milled the lumber and the whining of the forklifts as they picked up and carried the lumber from conveyor belts to the yard. Occasionally the whistle would blow signifying lunch or shift changes and there were constant beeps and school bell noises when a line was stopped for one reason or another.
It is the first thing I thought upon hearing the opening track of Elkhorn's new album The Black River. The twelve-string of Jesse Sheppard laying down bedrock (the acoustic life beat of the mills), the electric and electronic sawblade of Drew Gardner slicing through it. It was music and lifeblood for the little town, along with the sound of power (chain) saws and the falling of large trees, for they were still large then, and the later beeps of the whistlepunkts as they oversaw the extraction of the logs to landings to be loaded onto trailers hauled by trucks made specifically for hauling them to the mills. I didn't know it then but, my God, logging and milling were an economic symphony! And Sheppard and Gardner, without realizing it, put it to music.
Some might call the songs on this album New Age but I don't. I look upon them as symphonic vignettes, musical poetry. No words because words would get in the way. The only percussion that of the plucking and strumming of strings. Pictures more than anything, laid out in musical form. Music that speaks to you.
I would be lying if I said I didn't hear cinematic background music in the tunes. “The Black River” shrieks documentary and if I didn't know this was brand spanking new I would swear that it had been used in one of the many that I have seen. Any of the songs could be. More than one scene has passed before my closed eyes while listening to the album. It is both masterful and beautiful in its construction and automatically adaptable to film. And if I make it sound like the music is analogous to ambient sounds, put that out of your head. That belongs in mine. And I thank Elkhorn for it.
A side note: Debacle Records has decided to market this, as far as I can tell, only on vinyl and digital. The vinyl LP's release date is April 14th. Two weeks later, it will be released digitally with one track added. In other words, vinyl = six tracks, digital = seven. For further information or queries, contact Debacle direct.