Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Elias and the Error: Help Yourself

Elias and the Error.  Help Yourself.
Self-produced, 2013.   Elias and the Error:

Elias Gowins describes Elias and the Error as alternately, a project, and theatrical electronic rock music, and avant-garde pop.  Okay.  It took me awhile to get this all straight, because there is a band pictured on the CD sleeve, but they are not the Error.  They are the musicians who work with Elias in concert.  The Error is an artistic collective who do video, photography, costuming, and other smart stuff, all based in Canton.  For the album, Elias seems to be the sole performer.  In preparation for reviewing this album, I listened to the previous release, an EP called Americans.  It has three tracks of mostly punk music, with some electronica thrown in.  Pretty good, but it’s hard to get a good feel of an artist from three tunes.  Help Yourself has eleven, and gives me a much better idea (I think) as to where this is all coming from.  This is also his eleventh release.

At first listen, I would describe his music as a chaotic cross among several styles, including punk, new wave, and electronica.  Imagine Ric Ocasek and Ian Dury singing over tunes written by Gary Numan, with a touch of Devo.  Elias sings better than Dury, but perhaps not as well as Ocasek, and some of the tunes are not very Numan-like.  But Elias isn’t focused on sex, drugs, and rock & roll, or even love, although Numan’s alienation is certainly present.  Help Yourself takes us to a deeper place, the realms of mental illness.  All of the tracks lyrically relate to the topic, from the opening tune, “As I was Going to St. Clair,” about being dropped off at a mental health institution (with some degree of comedic flair), to the feelings of helplessness of the title track, to the relatively hopeful final song, “Unfamiliar Optimistic View” (again, a bit of humor present).  He covers a wide array of apparently self-confessional issues, including depression, suicide, and gender identity.  I appreciate the honesty and forthrightness in his songwriting.

Musically, the songs are pretty good, varying in impact, from the strong electropop of “Let the Music Go,” to the almost Queen-like “Invective Vows Implied Consent,” to the rocketing Zero-Son, the Mercurial.  There are lots of rhythm changes, lots of pivoting within songs, and a good deal to think about.  Much of it is loud, if that makes any difference.  At first, I wasn’t sure what to think of this, and was ready to dismiss it as just a mess, but closer listening revealed considerable talent and skill in a postmodern vein.  Elias and the Error has apparently achieved a loyal following, and this album may continue to cement that loyalty.  Given the Error’s emphasis on visual arts, I suspect that the best way to experience Elias and the Error is in concert.  Here’s a taste:

Personnel:  Elias Gowins, (also, Mike Bianchi (drums), Sandra Emmeline (keytar, piano), and Zak Keith (guitar), when in performance), the Error (an artistic collective).
Tracks:  As I was Going to St. Clair; Utik; Gelobtes Land; Satic Onanism; Let the Music Go; Invective Vows Implied Consent; Zero-Son, the Mercurial; Good Morning, Master; Depraved Indifference; Help Yourself; Unfamiliar Optimistic View.

The Grand Wazoo

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