Is "from New York City" an official genre yet? It seems as if each new month signals the arrival of another Gotham-bred "it" band. And you can always expect a few certain things: impossible-to-ignore influences, big city swagger and impeccable fashion sense. The Strokes busted it wide open, and bands like the Walkmen, French Kicks, the Natural History, and Interpol (not to mention a couple dozen garage bands) became the objects of fascination in hyperbolic music rags across the world. (Well, maybe fewer people give a shit about the Natural History.)
Thus far, Elefant have followed the hype process exactly according to protocol. This debut album comes only two months after their Gallery Girl EP, a tight little release that garnered a healthy amount of positive, if not ejaculatory, attention, and hinted at an exciting future. Though it isn't the staggering atom bomb that was Turn on the Bright Lights, Sunlight Makes Me Paranoid is intermittently brilliant and wholly accomplished, establishing Elefant as more than a flash in the pan.
These guys had better get used to Interpol comparisons. The similarity is most marked in James Berrall's gloomily driving bass lines, which introduce and then dominate a sizeable portion of these songs. Berrall's energetic interplay with drummer Kevin McAdams moves Sunlight along at a brisk pace that founders only on the slower numbers; "Static on Channel 4" is a Doves-like soft rock space jam, and the title track is an aimless snooze. Occasional blasts of spacious guitar (courtesy of a dude named Mod) function mostly as scope-enlarging flourishes.
Diego Garcia, the spotlight-grabbing vocalist and songwriter, comes across like a more brooding, slack David Bowie, though he lacks the lyrical skill of the similarly Bowie-like Dan Bejar. Too often he resorts to lazy dial-a-cliché, mostly concerning the celebrated, abstract notion of "love", a topic usually best left unnamed. On "Tonight Let's Dance", Garcia wails, "All I want is all her love", and on "Love", the title pretty much sums up the lyrical blandness to come. Throughout the disc, Garcia sings of lost lovers and the trials of misfitdom, but he wields a healthy self-assuredness that leads me to think he goes onstage with a few top buttons left unbuttoned, and wouldn't have serious reservations about fucking a few groupies.
The album's best songs void concerns that Elefant are fashion and hype vessels. "Annie" and "Bokkie" are leftovers from the EP, but they're so compulsively listenable that it hardly matters. The lyrics of the former admirably skirt the expected "girls" theme; it's a vivid, slow-burning nightmare about murder, and the words are fittingly blood-drenched. "Misfit" is a shaggy, catchy-as-fuck slacker anthem that could have been one of the best tracks on Is This It, while "Ester" closes the album with a wistful gust of indie pop.
If the NYC tag brings Elefant unwarranted levels of fandom, so be it. It's no stupider than cynically ignoring them because of it. These Elefant men are all right.