Elder Ones, 2019
When From Untruth was announced, I was downright excited. The Elder Ones’ first album, Holy Science, made a lasting impression. My initial response to the preview single was tad cool, though. Amirtha Kidambi’s voice on the first album felt so integrated and naturalistic, and this had some of the same stilted air that made Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl hard for me to love. Plus, this time around, she was singing in English.
Vocals are a tricky bit: more than any other aspect in music, you are likely to have strong, probably irrational feelings about how a singer sounds. We also tend to have pretty decisive reactions to words themselves. A good lyricist can elevate a mediocre band while bad poetry can sink a great performance.
Then I went to see Elder Ones as a part of the 2019 Big Ears Festival, and it was easily a highlight of the day. I gained a new vantage point on the material—which wasn’t nearly as choral-inflected or as distanced from the music as I first thought. Even though the words are blunt—she introduced Eat the Rich by saying it’s something she ardently believes—it also came across as vibrant protest. Her statements are blatant, but in the era of Trump, we are living in damnably unsubtle time.
In the end, I viewed From Untruth as a continuation of Yoko Ono’s vital work in the mid-70s. I don’t mean to compare their styles. Kidambi is a powerful and versatile, professional singer trained in multiple styles and her band are seasoned, talented improvisors. What I do mean to call out is the plain-spoken, unfussy action of songwriting as tool for truth, for uncovering what is wriggling under the rocks we walk on daily.
That, and sometimes, the album just wails.