REVIEW: Ourselves the Elves – “Geography Lessons” EP (2015)

Geography Lessons

Have you ever heard a record that’s so staggeringly beautiful that it made you feel… feelings? It’s been a while since a record did that to me. That is, until I listened to Ourselves the Elves’ new EP, “Geography Lessons”. First, a little background. “Geography Lessons” is a collaboration of sorts between the band and filmmaker Petersen Vargas. Vargas tasked Ourselves the Elves with creating the soundtrack to his short film, “Lisyun Qng Geografia”. It was a match made in heaven, and the short film garnered critical acclaim. It was only a matter of time before the band released the soundtrack as their second EP.

Comparing the sound of “Geography Lessons” to their debut EP, it’s pretty clear that the band has grown in the last couple of years. The band has always been great songwriters, but the songs that make up “Geography Lessons” are on a whole different level. The EP is filled to the brim with smart songwriting and production choices, which makes it sound so refreshing. As musicians, Aly Cabral, Aki Medina, Paula Castillo, and Ponch Salvador  know when to pull back as long as it serves the song, which, to be frank, is something that a lot of bands have yet to understand.

“Geography Lessons” opens with the serene and bucolic “Baby I Love You”. It’s a haunting ballad that sets the dreamy tone of the entire EP. It sounds like something not of this time, and it works because of the quality of Cabral’s voice and the way everything was recorded and mixed. By the time the strings kick in, you’re already pulled in to this universe that the band has created.

The following track, “Longing For”, owes a lot to the band’s more indie rock leanings. The reverb-drenched vocals and subtle slide guitars and synths blend together perfectly, and shows off the band’s cleverness when it comes to arranging their songs. But it’s the third track, “Uncertainly”, that is arguably the standout track from this EP. Despite being a catchy number with trumpet parts courtesy of Rod Camarce, it still has that sense of world-weariness mixed with hopefulness that still fits the EP’s whole vibe.

The record closes with the sparse “Cincinnati Clocks”, a song that is the perfect example of everything I love about this record. Aside from being great songs, the tracks in “Geography Lessons” are not overburdened with unnecessary instrumentation and production which ultimately gives them a sense of space.

There’s also a hidden track after “Cincinnati Clocks” which is a reprise of “Baby I Love You So”. The reprise is a great idea, because playing it on repeat gives the illusion that the record just loops. With these bookending tracks, the band managed to make a complete listening experience with just four songs.

Some EPs feel too short, other records feel too long, but Ourselves the Elves’ “Geography Lessons” is nothing short of perfection. It is the best record I have heard this year hands down, and I can’t wait for the band to make their debut full length record.

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