I think the whole pandemic has made me appreciate the quiet. It could have been the stay-at-home orders for nearly a year. It could also have been the year-and-a-half of construction in my apartment building that forced me to put the podcast on pause.
The combination of these things has just about depleted my expectations for just about everything.
That may be why “Flying Dream 1,” the ninth studio album by the Bury, England-based rock band Elbow, pulled me in from the opening lyrics sung by Guy Garvey:
“Flying dream one
Dead of the night when the prayer group was gone
Mum and my sisters all blissful at feather
Candlewick swaddled my golden wee brother.”
The album, released Nov. 19, 2021 via Polydor Records, was written by the band members remotely in each of their home studios. They then took up residence in Brighton Theatre Royal in Brighton, Sussex, England, which was empty due to the pandemic, where they finished and recorded the tracks.
“We don’t phone each other for a chat. We don’t talk about life outside the music until we’re together. These hushed night-time missives told us how each other were doing,” Garvey wrote on the band’s website. “When we finally got together, all that was to do was record the songs, honour them with amazing additional singers and players in a gorgeous space and catch up. It was beautiful.”
Garvey slips into a falsetto on “After The Eclipse” has his band members sing “Come out into the sun” as a refrain that has a dreamlike quality as it slowly progresses.
The instrumentation on the album sounds full with Garvey leading the singing and playing guitar, Craig Potter on keyboard and piano, guitarist Mark Potter and bassist Pete Turner. They were joined by Sarah Field on clarinet and saxophone, singer Jesca Hoop, drummer Alex Reeves and singers Wilson Atie, Adeleye Omotayo and Marit Røkeberg.
Those piano and bass notes play off one another beautifully on “Is It a Bird.” There is plenty of space for Field to let her saxophone emote through the end of the track.
I couldn’t help but to fall in love with each layer of instrumentation as it builds to complete “Six Words.” The quiet, almost harp-like fingerpicking that opens the song had me listening closely before the bass and percussion kicked in nearly blowing me off my chair in the quietest way.
I still can’t decide what I love about the song most – the tropical rhythms or the spacey melody, but I feel it’s just better to embrace the harmony created by the combination of voices.
“Calm and Happy” has a great has almost a folksy talking blues quality to it and then comes in with the steel guitar solo. It is whimsical in its reminiscence of the past and also delicate in its delivery. I love the lyrics, “My little bones are shaking and my heart beats holes in me.”
Garvey can truly spin a tale and the instrumentation punctuates his poetry on “Red Sky Radio (Baby Baby Baby).” He’s convincing as he almost sounds as if he’s dying to sing each word and can’t wait to express it with the perfect emotion.
“I don’t remember now a single word
It’s half a life and half a world ago
But I remember when
And that I loved you so.”
The band builds up to verse on “The Seldom Seen Kid.” The plodding drumbeat is steady as the bass notes bubble beneath the surface and then hover above the melody. It’s the name of the band’s fourth album released in 2008.
With the piercing keyboards and Garvey’s accent, the band plays up its Englishness on the closing track, What Am I Without You.” It’s a sweet song that comes from the devoted love of a father. It ends with a piano progression that almost sounds like, “To be continued.”
“The universe keeps singing its song
I can’t get it out of my head
It skips right along like a stone on water
And I think I know how it ends.”
Elbow creates a fantastical world to play with the illusion of purpose and devotion on “Flying Dream 1”. I appreciate the 10 tracks, 44 minutes and 27 seconds more and find new ways to love “Flying Dream 1” with each listen.
Flying Dream 1
After The Eclipse
Calm and Happy
Red Sky Radio (Baby Baby Baby)
The Seldom Seen Kid
What Am I Without You