This collection is undoubtedly entertaining, but The Fall and Rise of John Elderkin and ¡Moonbeams reeks of ambition. It isn’t portentous nonsense or pseudo-poetic meandering. Despite spanning seventeen songs and making demands on a listener’s attention no casual fan will be willing to meet; this is a thoroughly accessible album, albeit one bent to Elderkin’s particular array of idiosyncrasies. He’s assembled a plethora of the best talent available in the North Carolina area and adept in a variety of forms for his own personal take offs on styles as varied as freaked out hard rock, folkie jangle, balladry, and other surprising entries. His influences are often discernible but, sometimes, undetectable and subtle. The song cycle is based around a clear narrative rather than an overall theme or concept and Elderkin’s songwriting does a supremely novelistic job of emphasizing story within the elements of a music album.
“We Waited Five Years”, the album’s first proper song, is an intelligently written piece eulogizing, in some ways, the promise many young listeners felt hearing The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust for the first time, but there’s much more going on here. It’s filtered through an uniquely personal consciousness that takes this far from being just a reverential nod to an influential album. “Messy Down Below” is a wildly entertaining garage rock raver rife with exuberance and energy. Elderkin shows the same lyrical facility here that distinguished the opener and the ability to vary his writing approach as needed. Few songs bear out that assertion more than the following track “The Message”. The track relies on a much more ephemeral take on song construction and incorporates some quasi-classical sounds. Vocals take on a much more surprising shape here, as well, far different than the comparatively traditional singing heard on the earlier songs. Guitar presides over much of “Gather Your Strength” and no additional instrumentation comes into the picture until relatively late in the song. The plaintive, slightly distorted qualities of the guitar playing do a great job of scene setting and getting over the track’s clear melodic strengths.
“Don’t Look Right at the Sun” has a lot of influences percolating through its mix. There’s a little bit of the singer/songwriter genre working its way in, a dollop of old fashioned punk rock raver, and some of the same raw garage rock poses we’ve heard in the album’s earlier songs. It sports a more jagged edge than anything else we’ve heard this far and Elderkin’s vocal responds to the challenge with a gritty and gusty singing performance. “You Got Sick” is a truly disarming moment on the album. Much of the posing is stripped away here and we get Elderkin, his lyrics, and piano accompaniment getting underneath listener’s skin with a minimal amount of effort. It’s the closest Elderkin ever comes to crafting a clear as crystal ballad and works without any of the bathos or sentimentality often defining this type of song. The range and ambition Elderkin shows on this release is quite unlike much of what you will hear in the mainstream or indie scenes. John Elderkin and ¡Moonbeams No Mas! are an outfit working along the margins of the mainstream, but they are storytellers and musicians of the first order and The Fall and Rise of John Elderkin and ¡Moonbeams No Mas! is as impressive of a release from anyone as I’ve heard in the last half decade or more.