Monday, 17 November 2014

Groove Theories: Elevaters / Come Alive

Elevaters | Come Alive

Come Alive
by Sean Morris

Back in 2007, when Daft Punk seemed like they were well on their way to being electronica’s Peter Frampton (i.e. best known for a live album), Los Angeles’ Elevaters had already begun pulling disco’s name out of the mud. Fusing funk rock, pop, and hip hop, Rising was unmistakably ahead of the curve. Seven years and one successful crowdfunding campaign later, Elevaters have not moved beyond the ground floor of modern dance and soul trends. Despite many strong moments, overall Come Alive is the sound of playing catch up. 

There is a solid seven-song EP amongst these thirteen tracks. “Calling You” juxtaposes verses listing “all of this mundane shit” with robust electro-funk escapism and an infectious chorus. “Fela/De La” is one of the many grin-inducing rhymes on “MSG,” as in “Madison Square Garden,” not the non-essential amino acid. If the Random Access Memories arena tour had been more than just a fantasy, Elevaters would have been a fine choice for opening act. “Want You to Want Me” works as soft core slow jam, though the use of the “pray/prey” homonym in the breakdown walks a fine line between snuggling and stalking.

The band’s key players are vocalists Sam Golzari and Ben Hall, producer/multi-instrumentalist David Noily, and emcee Miles Gregley. Their synergy is undeniable, yet on Come Alive, the end results rarely generate much of an emotional response beyond polite affability. The harmonizing on heavy-eyed ballads “Do It for Love” and “Come Home” are less soul and more SoulDecision. Now I have a soft spot for “Ooh It’s Kinda Crazy,” but reminding listeners of early 2000s TRL also-rans isn’t exactly going to set the world on fire.

Any time they yank their lyrics out of the syrup, Elevaters show us their full capabilities. Writing life affirming and politically minded songs without being cloying or combative is no easy feat, and in this respect, “Marathon Man” and “Work to Do” succeed admirably. The latter trades in “Calling You”s mundane shit list for a rundown of social issues as the arrangement gently swells into a stirring call to arms. Unabashedly inspirational moments such as these are much more prevalent on Rising, while Come Alive treats them like brief distractions from the dancing and romancing.

Production-wise, Elevaters’ first album kept us on our toes by alternating between the sensual and the gritty. Their second doggedly adheres to jovial yet predictable R&B/disco templates. Thankfully, nothing here approaches the torturous tedium of Timbaland and Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience Part 2, but the CliffsNotes Quincy Jones chord progressions eventually wear out their welcome. Gregley’s bars appear like clockwork after the second verse/chorus, and the most memorable lines are either sturdily constructed platitudes (“a renegade been persuaded to behave a particular way”) or innocuous references (“I need your help walking down the green mile”). There’s that SoulDecision connection again.

Listeners unfamiliar with Elevaters will incorrectly assume that Come Alive is merely jumping onto the 70's nostalgia bandwagon. The “Get Lucky” and “Mirrors” tidal waves probably inspired the band’s Kickstarter to help finish Come Alive, but not the project itself. “Tonight”s vocoder-drenched groove hop was originally released via Bandcamp in 2010, and “Work to Do” has been on Noily’s Soundcloud page since the conclusion of 2012’s Maybe We Can re-election campaign. While it's great that these songs finally got a proper release, the fact that they've been part of their repertoire for years lends to the less than fresh feeling that permeates. The group does innovative better than they do "more of the same." Elevaters may not be ahead of the curve this year, but that does not mean that they deserve to fall off of it completely. Hopefully “Vamanos,” the "Work to Do" reprise that closes Come Alive, isn't an indefinite coda. 

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Zestyverse's resident Music Geek Sean Morris is an SF Bay Area native with a photographic memory and encyclopedic knowledge of popular culture. He is a graduate of UCLA's School of Theater, Film, and Television, a former Los Angeles Slam Team member, part of the collective Art 4 A Democratic Society, and a music blogger for The Owl Mag. Find him on TwitterSoundCloud, and YouTube.

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