‘Monachopsis’ sounds like something your GP would give you a course of antibiotics for, but it’s not. It’s actually ‘the subtle but persistent feeling of being out of place’.
Indie-rock band the Elephant Trees channel this feeling over the space of an impressive six-track EP. The Manchester-based duo is the latest in the long line of rock acts to find inspiration in alienation and outsider status.
Martha Phillips and Sam Hugh-Jones have been making music together since 2015. ‘Monachopsis’ is the sound of a band full of ideas and unafraid to cross genre boundaries.
The first two tracks are relatively conventional indie rockers. ‘IDKWIWA’ features a lengthy, goth-tinged intro that leads into a punchy track reminiscent of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
It’s followed by ‘Idiot’, arguably the catchiest song on the EP. Its big, swaggering riff takes centre stage, supported by Phillips’ half-sung, half-spoken vocals, which drip with attitude.
The third track, ‘Bricks and Mortar’, sees an unexpected gear change. It slowly builds from a stumbling drumbeat into a folky ballad. But this track is really all about the vocals. Phillips shows tremendous range, shifting from a fragile falsetto to a soaring wail. Her performance is a stunning blend of passion and technique, and is further proof that the Elephant Trees are full of surprises.
Just as you think you’ve figured out the band’s sound, it changes again. The next two tracks are dance-based. ‘Skip Me’ is an eerie slice of electronica, with heavily distorted vocals and sinister synths in the style of horror movie maestro John Carpenter.
Similarly, ‘4100’ is sleek and ominous, with bouncy synthlines and a futuristic feel that seems inspired by Grimes.
The band returns to a conventional indie sound with the final track ‘2 Seconds’. All ethereal vocals and moody textures, it would be easy to mistake the song for a Florence and the Machine track. It’s the one time the band steers a little too close to the sound of one of their influences.
The Elephant Trees have an admirable desire to stray from their comfort zone and experiment with different styles. This eclecticism doesn’t make for the most cohesive EP. Monachopsis is so overflowing with ideas that it feels like the work of two or three different bands.
But given that the band is blessed with confidence, attitude and a singer of outstanding range, it’s easy to see a great future for them, in whichever style they choose to pursue.
‘Monachopsis’ EP is out now