The long-awaited full-length release from Oliver Elf Army finds them at their darkest—and also at their best.
Oliver Elf Army are self-proclaimed “purveyors of sinister pop,” and the descriptor is a perfect distillation of the band’s style and ethos. Formerly a husband-wife duo of Martin Adams (guitar, vocals) and Mary Adams (drums, vocals), the band is joined in the studio for the first time by Henry Yarsinske Jr., who has served as the act’s live bassist for several years now. His addition to the recording lineup finds the band’s distinct brand of fuzzy, D.I.Y. pop-rock landing harder than before. The new songs have a meaner, meatier edge that perfectly suits the band’s lyrics.
On their latest release, Oliver Elf Army Are Sending Thoughts and Prayers, the band wastes no time diving into devilish territory. The opening track and lead single, “Corvette Summer,” is a viciously effective tone-setter. It opens with feedback and a menacing riff that crunches its way towards the listener before giving way to a far sunnier soundscape. However, that seemingly light atmosphere quickly darkens as the band fantasizes about rich kids driving their luxury cars to a fiery oblivion. It’s one of the band’s prickliest songs—even considering their other twisted eat-the-rich ballad, “Bellevue Brats.” Nonetheless, “Corvette Summer” contains all the things Oliver Elf Army do best: pitch-black comedy, social commentary, and cheery pop-rock hooks set on a straightforward musical and lyrical foundation. It’s as discomforting as it is catchy; the chorus still makes me squirm a little, even as its melody remains stuck in my head. But you’d be hard-pressed to find another song in the band’s discography that’s so brutally effective.
While “Corvette Summer” does still give the listener some time to breathe with its intro and outro, most of the record is very concise. “864512 Go!” channels the band’s hottest ire and sharpest wit in a scathing denouncement of President Trump. Their take-down’s and tell-off’s have never felt so satisfying as they do here, with every line—no matter how simple—landing hard. The two-track run of “Nugent” and “Nachthexen” function in a similar political space. The refrain “You deserve Ted Nugent” in the former gets funnier every time I hear it, and there’s nothing quite as cathartic as people yelling in unison, “Nazi punks, f**k off” in the latter.
While the band’s political interests couldn’t be more worn on the sleeve (I mean, look at the album title), their love for quirky outsider narratives is also fully on display in …Thoughts and Prayers. After all, this is a band whose earliest Bandcamp releases sported He-Man cover art and who wrote a full-length album around the television show Freaks & Geeks. So it comes as little surprise that the record’s middle section includes sci-fi-tinged stories both real and imagined. There’s “Black Nikes,” which chronicles the tragedy of the Heaven’s Gate cult, and there’s “Space Ghosts,” which spins a bizarre tale of a lost astronaut seduced by an alien queen. The band even colors a song about long-lasting love with imagery of planetary destruction and a revolt of clawed robots in “Infinity Is OK.”
“Young Riddles” finds Oliver Elf Army at their sweetest as they depict the cutesy confusion of young love. It’s a fine track, but it’s the record’s most basic moment—to the point where it almost feels out of place. This also illuminates really the only weak element of the record. While all of the tracks on …Thoughts and Prayers are good, there’s not really a sonic or conceptual through-line to unify them all into a cohesive album experience. Instead, it plays a lot like a “greatest hits” record. In some ways, it is: three of the tracks (“Infinity is OK,” “Black Nikes,” and “Nachthexen”) appeared across two earlier EP’s. Though a remaster integrates them into the overall sound of the record nicely, the absence of bassist Henry Yarsinske Jr. is clearly felt. However, a compilation of hits can also serve as an earned victory lap for accomplished artists, and Oliver Elf Army definitely deserves the celebration, as they’ve grown into a staple of the Everett music scene—gaining a fervent fanbase through their electrifying live performances. Moreover, the “album experience” seems to be less significant in the streaming age, so this may not even be a problem for most listeners.
In any case, the record ends with a triumphant flourish that nicely illustrates what makes the band work at the end of the day. “You Are a F*****g Miracle” is a heartfelt song written from Mary and Martin to their son, urging him not to let himself be consumed by the Internet and instead cherish the wonder and beauty of existence. Like the rest of the record that precedes it, the track’s coarseness is offset by just how life-affirming and earnest it all feels. Oliver Elf Army are exactly the type of band that would typically be either insufferably self-serious or obnoxiously aloof. However, their snark never outweighs their sincerity, and their biting social critique never keeps you from having a good time. Oliver Elf Army Are Sending Thoughts and Prayers strikes a near-perfect balance between gravity and levity in a solid thesis statement for a band that’s always growing and never slowing down.
Oliver Elf Army Are Sending Thoughts and Prayers can be found on all digital platforms. You can also order a limited edition vinyl LP on their Bandcamp.