David Reep has had something of a broad geographical residency during his lifetime – living in various states across the US and for several years in England – so it’s no great shock that his music is topographically diverse. Operating under the moniker of Elephant & Castle, named after the famous London location, he seems to have embraced some of the darker urban styles of British artists such as Burial in his mostly instrumental, atmospheric LP, Transitions. The same sort of eerie vocal samples are utilised, making Burial a natural comparison; and yet, with less of a focus on clicky beats and more of an interest in ambient noise and jazzy interludes, Elephant & Castle certainly succeeds in demanding your attention.
This initial quality is very important, undoubtedly because electronic music is hugely popular nowadays, and you never have to travel far to hear the next artist fiddling around with a synthesizer. And so, when an artist comes along with a truly unique sound, it makes the job of writing about said artist a heck of a lot more interesting. Take “Rise,” for example; it’s the second track on display here, but it shows such a huge variety of tonal and melodic changes throughout that it could easily out-class most of Reep’s contemporaries. Some of his more artistic flourishes, such as the organic opening to “Derni/Paralysis” remind one of Nitin Sawhney’s Beyond Skin, showcasing his natural comparison with British artists. It’s all very beautiful and cinematic: tracks slow down and start up sporadically; vocal samples are distorted like an old film tape; and, throughout the majority of the LP, the music remains the main focus, with the lyrics acting as instruments themselves.
An obvious highlight is the impressive “En Memoria,” which features the incredible Merrill Garbus (aka tUnE-yArDs) on vocals. It makes an interesting change, arriving around the middle of the LP and placing a greater focus on the softness of the human voice. Merrill Garbus’ angelic voice gels perfectly with the immense ambient noise surrounding her, all fed through chopped-up samples that sound similar to Massive Attack’s “Exchange.” It’s a thoroughly inspired, at times minimalistic, and enchantingly beautiful collaboration that makes the prospect of hearing an entire LP between Reep and Garbus incredibly tempting. And, as Transitions continues, it never comes across as anything other than exceptional; some ideas come and go in a breeze, such as the quick-paced “Oakland Stroll.” Others, such as “Formatting…,” the collaboration with ex-Sleepy Sun singer Rachel Fannan, are slower and more Eastern-sounding, inviting an introspective listen. And, Reep proves that he’s capable of capturing incredibly tender moments of sorrow with the haunting “I Will,” which comes across as another album highlight due to its ability to genuinely move the listener during its middle segment.
Barely a single track on Transitions stays in one place for long. It’s all too common in electronic music to allow for repetitive loops with only marginal variations to take control. Thankfully, Elephant & Castle absolutely avoids this typical pitfall, making almost every second sound different and interesting. At times invoking an early Toro Y Moi – “RGB<<” sounds somewhat reminiscent of “Lissoms” - whilst playing into the dub and chilled-out electronic music of the UK. Transitions is a fantastic example of what can happen when a talented individual makes the most of their wide scope of travels, picking up nuances from all over the place and applying them to their craft. Without a dull moment in sight, Reep has succeeded in creating something of an ethereal masterpiece.