Mirage exemplifies art of songwriting

Elf Project, brainchild of Carl Shultz, is a local band that I first heard on WRPI’s Wednesday Night Live. Following the show, I went straight to their website and was pleasantly surprised to see that their discography was available for streaming right there. It was obvious to me that their label was not RIAA-affiliated. So, instead of looking for a torrent (and you can try, you won’t find one), I decided to purchase the album for myself.

Mirage by Elf Project is hard to categorize. It is very much a time machine to the ’60s and ’70s, with a combination of progressive and psychedelic rock. After six original, progressive, and psychedelic rock songs and a Beatles cover, you are hit with an acoustic alternative rock tune that is just as riveting as the initial tracks. Mirage reminds me of Rush, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, and Tangerine Dream. Between the synthesizers, the harmonized vocals, the fantastic drumming, the ecstatic guitar solos, layered complex songs, and instrumental interludes, Elf Project offers a great mix of styles to transform the progressive rock scene. They’re not the first to try to do it and they sure won’t be the last, but they are doing it well.

Mirage starts out with a spooky track in “Lessons.” When I first listened to this song, I thought, “Wait, is this a Rush cover?” I can assure you that it is not, but its harmonized vocals, guitar solos, and talented drumming sure will fool you. Let’s not forget the synthesizer, which mixes well with the drums and solo to create a spacey atmosphere. It’s a song with familiar tones and tunes that will make you want to listen to the next song, which is important for an up-and-coming band like Elf Project. Most of all, it’s just fun to listen to. Sometimes artists try too hard to create complex arrangements and they forget what is most important: having fun.

Progressive rock is supposed to get chaotic at times and Elf Project’s Mirage is no different. Instrumentals “Jackhammer” and “Witchcraft” do not disappoint. “Witchcraft” has an energetic and riveting melody. The guitar co-stars with the keyboard to create a melody that is magical. The drums compliment the stars well to create an arrangement that is well -layered, but euphoric. “Jackhammer” is not as layered, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. The pure and physical energy make up for the loss of complexity. The energy builds up throughout the song until the conclusion, with the brevity of the piece being the audience’s only complaint.

“Carolan’s Welcome” offers quite a break from the progressive and psychedelic nature of the first six tracks. The drummer, bassist, keyboardist, and vocalist take a break and the guitarist picks up his acoustic and weeps. The track is a beautiful, soothing, and sad song. Either “Carolan’s Welcome” is a very sad one or the song should have been named “Carolan’s Goodbye.” Boys, you’re going to need to grab the tissues on this track. It is a beautifully well-composed track. I didn’t think that the final track, “Whisper The Memory Of Old,” could have matched up to the performance of “Carolan’s Welcome,” but somehow it did.

“Whisper The Memory of Old,” another instrumental track, is a mystical track, the likes of which I haven’t heard before. The flutist plays with the skill of Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson and creates an almost magical, rainforest-like atmosphere with a bit of space rock mixed in. Yes, it’s like if there was a rain forest in outer space. It’s a slow and lazy tune that has nowhere to go but bliss, and the audience has no choice but to remain seated in this nature wonder ride. Animals join for the overture to perfect the environment. The arrangement’s slow trip towards Nirvana only ends after 10:06 minutes of euphoria.

First albums are always wonderful listens. There are no compromises and they are executed with such energy, such innocence, and such intensity that there is not much criticism to go around. There are musical groups who go overboard first time around: They get too excited, too energetic, and too intense, so the fun is gone. Not so with Elf Project’s Mirage. It’s why I did not want to define them as pure progressive rock or pure psychedelic rock. Truth be told, Elf Project should not be defined as either genre. They are musicians recording a stream of consciousness, releasing the emotions in their hearts.