Elephant Stone is an indie rock band from Montreal that formed in 2009. Their sound is an eclectic mix of 60’s mod and classic psychedelic rock with elements of traditional Indian music. The sitar playing bandleader Rishi Dhir was once a member of The High Dials, another indie rock band of some success that also hails from Montreal. He is a heavily sought after sitar studio musician affiliated with other diverse artists such as Brian Jonestown Massacre, Beck, and The Soundtrack of Our Lives. After leaving The High Dials, Dhir pursued a solo effort that morphed into the current version of Elephant Stone. The name of the band likely originates from a song of the same name and pays homage to the seminal English rock band, Stone Roses .
Elephant Stone’s full-length debut The Seven Seas was not so far removed from the earliest references for The High Dials by also delving into mod rock sounds. It was guided by Dhir’s desire to attempt to create a singularly identifiable sound that fused psychedelic, pop, and rock with Indian influences. The Seven Seas immediately received acclaim and was long listed for the 2009 Polaris Award given to the best full-length album based solely on artistic merit and integrity. This set lofty expectations in Canada for what would come next.
Their eponymous sophomore effort is easy to think of in terms of vinyl; the first half is quite accessible with traditional rock arrangements. The second side is far more experimental and stretches out, encompassing a diversity of musical genres. Also, Dhir’s use of the sitar becomes much more prominent. No question the sitar can be an off-putting instrument to many. Just consider George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh and the awkward applause for Ravi Shankar while concluding his warm up routine with this most complex instrument. Audience members weren’t able to discern the warm up from the actual set. Dhir finds a way to use it effectively and never so unilaterally that it overtakes the modernized mod or psychedelic sensibilities that are clearly what defines Elephant Stone.
Elephant Stone opens with “Setting Sun,” which would sound quite at ease on any modern rock radio station across the country. “Setting Sun” veers from the 60’s Byrds to guitar fills echoing Steppenwolf’s “The Pusher” to a blazing outro guitar solo that would make the brothers in Oasis again smile at each other. The jangly guitars are like sugar luring the listener, but it’s the modern hard rock crushing guitar that delivers at the end.
The signature song from this album is unquestionably “Heavy Moon.” Dark and contagious, it creeps up on you as tension mounts from the opening note held an uninterrupted 15 seconds. In the vain of classic psychedelic music pioneered by 60’s Guitar Gods like Jimi Hendrix, guitarist Gab Lambert uses a reverse guitar pedal to dizzying effects. Dhir recalls that he originally built the song around an Urge Overkill drum pattern that he looped and then wrote over it.
“Masters of War” is not a cover of the similarly titled Dylan song, but delivers the same lyrical message about the travesty of war. Without quite the defiance in Dylan’s masterpiece, Dhir focuses more on invading another country without any understanding of the invaded culture. The power pop guitar jangle belies the considerable lyrical gravitas. Dhir ends with a muted but hopeful question for either here or an afterlife, ‘Must we wait for a brighter day when all our sins are washed away?’
“Masters of War” [free download]
The mid-point is marked by the transcendent and epic “A Silent Moment.” No other song demonstrates the combination of all of Dhir’s musical influences and ambitions. “A Silent Moment” starts with the heartbreakingly forlorn sounds of a sitar before a wave of instruments crash onto the shore. A pretty bass line subtly floats along the groove and uplifts. Dhir’s voice sings ‘I can see what it is you gave me in my silent moment, I can hear all you have sent me in my silent moment, to be one within you; to not be without you, to be as I once was; I can feel the love that I was missing; I can be all that I was wishing’. In the middle of it, Dhir begins a traditional Indian chant as the music swells and subsides and swells again. His mournful chants create a magnificent but plaintive moment, one true highpoint of many on the album.
“Looking Thru Baby Blue” is all snake-like alt-rock and akin to Edwyn Collin hyper-catchy 1995 hit “A Girl Like You.”
The biggest reach is the aptly titled, eight and a half minute, “The Sea of Your Mind,” that stretches from the most overtly psychedelic into virtually progressive rock territories. Lots of mind-bending psychedelic vocal effects early that eventually extends into six minutes of jamming. As it reaches the jam-phase, the infusion of Indian musical influences becomes prominent. Elephant Stone get much credit here for creatively force-feeding something different and unique but still pleasant.
Overall, Elephant Stone’s second full-length album strikes the perfect balances of challenging yet undeniable, retro yet undiscovered, and tension with release.
Lyrics – 17
Composition – 17
Musicianship – 18
Production – 18
Originality – 9
Intangibles – 9