There’s a lot going on in Elephant Micah’s new album, Genericana. Time itself seems to be singer/songwriter/guitarist/band mastermind Joe O’Connell’s subject. The album feels as though it operates on multiple time scales simultaneously, like a hall of mirrors, continually folding back in on itself in surprising ways. Its songs bifurcate and split around the midway point of the album, pairing off in unstable, ever-shifting ways.
Sounds, lyrics, and themes pop up, transmogrified, across all six songs like the woozy almost-memories of dream: A bassline that feels like the heartbeat of a rambling blues riff in “Fire A” reemerges three songs later as the centerpiece of an ominous dub on “Fire B.” Or a guitar tone that bares its distorted teeth in its first appearance in “Life A” gets domesticated into a buzzing drone on “Surf B.”
In his lyrics, O’Connell tries on different personas, with surreal and self-referential musings about what would happen if he were, say, a hunter, a Quaker, or a guard (he would, respectively, catch and release a goose, “simplify this song,” and “reinvent this dance”). At moments, he comments directly on the song in real time, marking a particularly satisfying drone saying “I’d magnetize this tone” or the end of a song with “I’d listen to silence.” His voice has never sounded more like Will Oldham’s, albeit with fewer crags and burrs.
The most surprising element, though, is the revenant of Arthur Russell, whose experimental pop layerings seem to inform everything that happens on Genericana. O’Connell plays with Russell-adjacent worlds of echo in “Surf A,” and lopsided saxophone lines, synthesizer drones, and woozy tabla beats in “Fire B.” O’Connell has said that Genericana is about “exploring sound for sound’s sake,” and it shows. The results are a beautiful and intriguing sonic departure from the purer folk of past Elephant Micah albums.