Music: Brit rockers unleash 'Cast of Thousands'

Elbow bends with the wind, rebounds from label shakeup with haunting album



"Cast of Thousands" (V2) Dream-pop

There are some Anglophiles, like yours truly, who feel that Radiohead's "OK Computer" should be mass-mailed to every American. Others find it too eccentric, preferring to stick to more Brit-rock artists like Oasis and early Blur. However, in recent years, new British groups have culled from both styles to create a sort of "dream-pop indie" genre, with Elbow's sophomore release "Cast of Thousands" fitting neatly into the lot.

Elbow formed in Manchester in 1997 and released its debut album, "Asleep at the Wheel," to much critical praise. However, major label shakeups caused the band to be dropped; once it was added back to the label, it was quite clear that its next album needed to be a major success.

"Cast of Thousands" is comprised of 13 solid tracks, ranging from bitter, down-and-out tunes to genuine, heartfelt love songs, free of cheesy gimmicks and clichs. "Fallen Angel" is the highlight track, particularly when Garvey sings "All the fallen angels/ Roostin' in this place/Count back the weeks on worried fingers/ Virgin mother whats'erface," amid fuzzy guitars and aviary-like sound effects. "I've Got Your Number" is incredibly melodic, with a swaggering bass line that will make you shake your hips.

The few moments before the piano enters "Whisper Grass" sound suspiciously like Air's "How Does it Make You Feel," but the song eventually turns into a typical Brit-rock tune.

Elbow's music is vaguely experimental - less so than Sigur Ros and the aforementioned Radiohead, but is much more inventive than anything being released by an alternative rock band in America. Singer Guy Garvey's voice is reminiscent of the fragile warble of Chris Martin, which sometimes sounds like it's lacking authority over the music. In addition to Garvey's vocals, Elbow also employed the London Community Gospel Choir on the gorgeous opening track, "Ribcage."

Many of the songs on this album possess a haunting, ethereal quality, largely because of the band's studio, which, according to Elbow's Web site, is a converted church. "Cast of Thousands" also comes with a bonus CD full of videos and visuals to complement the music. With this album, Elbow has cemented itself as a strong, inventive group, one that hopefully will achieve more name recognition in the United States soon. Tour plans do not yet include a stop in Washington, but the chance of that is far greater than finding Thom Yorke in your mailbox.

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