REVIEW: Elbows - Corduroy EP

Kelly Kirwan

“This is a cassette player with a little cassette in it, so we’ll just have to play it, to see what it is…”

These opening lines are the voice of beloved children's show host Fred Rogers, though without context they're delivered as if cassettes were some alien contraption. His every word is repeated in strange counterpoint, a cartoonish voice like an animated martian on a helium bender. After this echoing line, we hear the telltale click that means the cassette is in place, and the music will begin—and so it does.

This serves as the introduction to a song—and album—that is equal parts odd, intriguing, nostalgic and ironic, and it does its job in setting the stage for the weird wistfulness to come on Elbows’ latest EP, Corduroy. The man behind the music is the Brooklyn-via-Bay Area producer and songwriter Max Schieble, who’s described his latest work as a kind of time travel. Schieble explained to Earmilk that these four tracks are a sampling of sounds that’ve been simmering in his mind since he started making music in the first place. The result feels both expansive and like a retro collage, filled with so many textures that no easy definition applies.

The opening track, "Oatmeal," is marked by the use of quirky sampling. A woman’s voice carries us through a circus-like synth that builds and zig-zags in a sharp pitch. Her voice has the deliberate monotone of a person reading a speech, and as the words come together they become recognizable as bits of Woody Allen’s Manhattan. But soon we depart from that 1979 classic, and move to a wry take on hip-hop’s boom bap, with a different woman’s voice adopting a midwestern twang to mimic the drum style in a stretched-out cadence: “Boom. Bap. Boom. Bap.”

The title track immediately follows, with a slinky R&B beat and Schieble’s slightly nasal, raspy pitch intoning, “Elbows on the table / Spinning fables / From the cradle / Straight to the rocking chair.” Funky synths dominate the first half of the track, before the pace gets a jolt, diving into some jittery electronic footwork that feels like a late-level arcade game. It fits with Elbows' overall aesthetic—a touch of humor woven into tightly-packed beats that incorporate everything from jazz to obscure pop culture references.

Courdory is not your run-of-the-mill EP. It’s a whirlwind that’s both witty and upbeat, and it's only the beginning for Max Schieble. We’ll be waiting to see what’s next, content to have no idea what's up his sleeve.