On Surf A, the opening track on Elephant Micah's new album Genericana, you get three minutes of synthesised waves dragging across shingle and distant seagull cries. Then when you finally do get vocals too, they're so spaced out and apparently wasted that you are really no more the wiser. Then there are more synthesiser drones, vocals reverberate back at you and then before you know it, the track is gone and track two commences.
It's all quite heroically strange. Six tracks in all, called Surf A, Fire A and Life A and err Life B, Fire B and Surf B. Things do begin to resemble the familiar once we move from Surf to Fire. Fire A swirling guitar motif is pretty damned catchy. So, from there to Life.
There are precedents for this. I was minded of Neil Young's On the Beach and Big Star's Sister Lovers. Wasted classics both. But this 'out-wastes' them both. Whether Joseph O'Connell the artist who drives Elephant Micah forward, (he's now based in a remote part of North Carolina - and that's not insignificant as to how this record sounds), whether he is actually wasted is besides the point. He does a wonderful job at projecting estrangement, alienation and isolation anyhow. Frankly the record is damned unsettling. It wants to and succeeds in taking you well out of your comfort zone.
This was made Uncut Magazine Album of the Month, and I can quite see why. Giving it that status was not just some oddball, leftfield, 'look at me' gesture. This is a fine, fine record. Not one perhaps that is going to sell by the cartload or make some kind of Bon Iver breakout. The weird bits are far too weird and uncompromising for that. Fire B retreats into more synthesiser drone and feedback for several minutes and is closer to Metal Machine Music than Fleet Foxes. But there is something strangely hypnotic about it all. It's no spoiler to say that the record ends as it's begun, with the sound of waves on shingle again. Back where we began.
So if Genericana seems unlikely to fill stadiums it should certainly fan a cult into something more considerable. One of the stranger records you're likely to hear this year. But also one of the most compelling. I'm curious as to how often I might return to this before 2018 becomes 2019. I suspect I'll keep getting drawn back to it.