Modern Classics: Elefant’s Sunlight Makes Me Paranoid
Someone other than me surely remembers Elefant. Right?
Led by The Strokes and Interpol, the rock revival of New York City in the early 2000s cleansed the palette of the post-grunge alt-rock mess that was dominating the airwaves at the end of the century. Bands such as Yeah Yeah Yeahs, LCD Soundsystem, and Vampire Weekend made it fashionable to adore Talking Heads and Blondie. The Anglophile undercurrent of the music, especially within the dark angles of Interpol, birthed a new generation of teens wearing vintage Joy Division t-shirts. It was also the last time a music scene born from one geographical area felt coherent and influential on a larger scale. Soon, bands like The Killers rode the trend to its commercial zenith while some of the NYC bands that lit the first spark were lost in the commotion. One such band was Elefant.
Fronted by the romantic Diego Garcia, Elefant were the complete package from the handsome lead singer armed with a melancholic pen to smart musicians who could shift effortlessly between the garage-rock energy of The Strokes and the foggy Manchester weather of Interpol. Signed to the upstart Kemado Records, 2003’s Gallery Girl EP offered a taste of where they meant to take us. The release of their debut album Sunlight Makes Me Paranoid a few months later nailed every aesthetic element of the scene perfectly.
Had the band arrived during the vinyl resurgence, the first five songs of Sunlight would make up the strongest album side of the NYC revival (yes, that includes Turn On the Bright Lights). Opener “Make Up” immerses us in the band’s vision of what The Smiths and The Cure might have sounded like if they came of age in The Bowery. Garcia’s affectation on “Now That I Miss Her” turns each phrase into the type of poetry that feels far more meaningful than it looks on paper. Such is the case on the band’s minor hit “Misfit” when Garcia muses – “wrote a poem on the back of your shoulder.” Far better songwriters have missed the potential for romanticism in the most simple of lines but Garcia practically hangs every song on such words.
The magnificent five song run ends with “Tonight Let’s Dance” which stops and starts like an uncertain suitor. The rhythm section throbs underneath Garcia’s growing urgency while the brilliant guitar work of Mod dispenses mystery and hope. Having reached an emotional crest, the album shifts into the psychedelic “Static On Channel 4” which resides somewhere out in space with David Bowie and the Flaming Lips. The album ends with “Annie”, “Love”, and “Ester”; all swirling through the same romantic turbulence as the beginning of the album. As it fades out, one pictures Diego Garcia walking down an alley in the rain, alone.
The buzz from Sunlight Makes Me Paranoid was enough to land them a spot on a film soundtrack (covering The Smiths, a bit predictably) and a shot in the majors with Hollywood Records. The drenched-in-noir 2006 follow-up The Black Magic Show suffered from expectations and the marketing by the label felt all wrong. There were worthy singles that never took flight in “Lolita” and “Uh Oh Hello” but the album seemed to fade away before it was given a chance to shine. The same could be said for Elefant. The band never released another album. Looking back, it doesn’t seem fair but the record business is littered with tales like these. Hopefully, the four members of Elefant are out there thinking about a reunion, proud that Sunlight Makes Me Paranoid remains one of the best albums of the new millennium.