When Big Things Come in Small Packages
Usually EPs elicit the following type of reaction: “Oh yeah, it was good, wasn’t that great.” Largely this is due to the seeming inability of extended plays to latch on to the part of the brain that gets songs stuck in people’s heads. In other words, EPs generally aren’t as memorable as albums or singles, much like the struggle of the middle child to find his or her place amongst younger and older siblings. That said, it’s easy to go into an EP with limited expectations. Luckily, In The Valley Below’s Elephant EP is an enjoyable, well-put-together set of five songs.
The project flows well, with the middle/third song being the weakest before it ends with the title track. “Bloodhands (Oh My Fever)” lures listeners in with a groove that sounds like it was played on bottles and kitchen supplies, all over a chord progression very similar to The Beatles’ classic “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (or more recently, The Weeknd’s “Wicked Games”). The parenthetical addition to the title almost functions as a separate, second half of the song, which has both encouraging energy as well a slightly somber relatability to it.
“Pink Chateau” easily has the most catchy melody of the five tracks. As with many catchy melodies, it offers very little lyrical variety and, with that, not much substance — or any hidden meaning. This tune showcases some excellent vocal work from the duo, especially when they mention their own name in the lyrics: “Down in the valley below,” Angela Gail Mattson sings, using the same two notes that comprise the chorus, while Jeffrey Jacob Mendel runs down the scale. They definitely use the two-singer setup to their advantage.
Continued use of excellent vocal harmony finds itself on the title track “Elephant,” which closes out the EP. Mattson and Mendel find the perfect dual vocal balance, occasionally singing the same pitches as a quick break from the harmonies, and singing at different times. With the lyrics making surprisingly good comparisons to elephants, such as “I remember everything” or “I could get scared by the little things,” it almost seems like two different voices inside someone’s head; yet both voices agree with each other. At first, the title seems a bit puzzling, but the duo totally make it work. The ever-gentle, brush-driven groove is the perfect backing track for the soft vocals throughout.
Not to be overlooked is “Break Even,” the ideal music for a protagonist and friends heading to certain doom but happy to at least be with each other. It seems like a fitting track for a hypothetical “Music Inspired by the Film Interstellar” kind of album, seeing that it captures a vaguely astronomical sound. The funky guitar and busy drums are a nice contrast to “Elephant,” but the second guitar that subtly comes in halfway through (only for a spell) to play a background melody might take the cake for coolest layer of this song. Overall, the track has a vibe that seems like a cross between late Muse and Tame Impala. It’s right up there with “Elephant” as one of the best numbers on this short work.
The first two tracks have more energy than the rest of the EP; “Hold on Tight” is the soft, indie-sounding middle track; the fourth and fifth tracks end things nice and calmly and are excellently constructed. Elephant EP is proof that EPs can be just as good as albums, with songs that will stick for quite some time. As Yoda once said, “Size matters not,” and correct, he is.