As major labels continue to exist behind the times, artists and labels with little capital and lesser reputations are producing some of the most innovative, interesting, and inspiring music. Whether it’s creating a new niche in digital technology or looking to once obsolete formats, Agitated Atmosphere hopes to shed a bit of light and share a bit of information on the up and coming sounds of artists such as Elephant Micah.
Indiana is not the foremost state in music advancement. The Hoosier state has plenty to celebrate outside its link to Cole Porter and pop/rock phenomena Babyface, Axl Rose, and the recently deceased Michael Jackson. Always bubbling under Indiana’s flat surfaces were indie labels and bands hoping to storm the Capitol Building with one-track zombie minds bent on feasting on the musical damned, using DIY ethos and experimental ideals as fuel for their eventual takeover. While that has yet to happen, one can’t ignore the wealth of independent and free-thinking labels that have flourished in the state at one time or another — now spearhead by the three-headed beast of Secretly Canadian/Jagjaguwar/Dead Oceans headquartered in Bloomington and the Lafayette-based avant label Family Vineyard feeding us folk, jazz, glitch, and electronic-based musics.
Not to be lost in the forest is Third Uncle, who happens to bring us the latest from one of Indiana’s great treasures, Elephant Micah. Joe O’Connell plays the face of Elephant Micah’s mix of dirge, folk, and twang. Beyond the simple, yet always catchy melodies composed of O’Connell’s deft strums and plucks lies lyrical magic. As with any intimate-based guitar outing, if you’re going to sing you better give the folks a story to hear. Exiled Magicians may evoke dreams of Richie Blackmore and Uriah Heap but in truth the only magic worked is in the stories of gods, gypsies, and ghosts. O’Connell blends traditional folk metaphors (the likes of Seeger, Ochs, and Dylan) with modern storytelling (the likes of James Toth, Neil Halstead, and Glenn Donaldson) — mortal flesh meeting vivid imagination and a bleeding heart. It becomes difficult to separate the absurd from the mundane; O’Connell speaking to us with childlike vision and elderly wisdom. Exiled Magicians showcases O’Connell’s quieter, lighter side but even in a brighter mood, the music still speaks to our darker recesses as if to calm rather than coddle, saving us from our disgust for another day.
Justin Spicer is a freelance journalist who also runs the webzine, Electronic Voice Phenomenon. He writes the Monday News Mash-Up and Thursday edition of Song of the Day for the KEXP Blog. You can now follow him on Twitter.