Only lucky people encounter bands like Elessar. You won’t hear them on the radio until orchestral indie folk music wins its fifteen minutes of widespread public appreciation. You won’t be able to see them play live in the near future if you live more than a stone’s throw from northern France. Still, consider yourself lucky: you have a chance to be part of the groundswell at its outset.
It hasn’t been two months since the release of Sun we Rise, Elessar’s formal introduction to the music world. March of 2012 saw the ensemble performing in concert for the first time. While their YouTube channel has already amassed views in the thousands for several cleverly arranged covers, many who have watched band leader Romain Olivieri render Coldplay’s “Paradise” solo may not have realized that Elessar is more than an instructional series for pianists. (Though, pianists will be pleased to find much of Olivieri’s sheet music available for download.)
What are they, then? A young twelve-piece trying to make a statement in a five-piece world. Elessar expands basic pop structure and sensibility, not merely with classical instrumentation, but with classical technique. Simply put, there are some things a violin or trombone can do that a guitar or synthesizer cannot; playing the same notes does not make the same music. Sun we Rise is brimming with deep moods and delightful garnishes that beg for the timbres only brass and strings can provide.
A clean and solitary French horn beckons at the outset of “On the Edge,” which goes on to feature singing both by Olivieri and by Elessar’s primary vocalist, the endearing Victoire Oberkampf. Her English words in a Parisian hue blend longing and worry with faithfulness, her range on display as she moves from easy crooning here to the fierce triumph at the climax of “Seven Knocks” two tracks later. In “Where there is no rush,” Oberkampf seems to start on a cafe patio before a small combo provides a club feel, eventually giving way to a full and eager symphony.
A curious departure from the rest of the set is “Lighter,” the album’s lone offering from songwriter François Legardinier, which drives with rock-and-roll force. As its lyrics depict a close but third-person vision of a passing away at its proper time, “Lighter” treads deliberately and emphatically through a chorus that, to my ear, could be reworked for any genre. Billy Joel, Kanye West, Hawthorn Heights—I think any of them could turn this into their own song.
As it is, the song is intimately a part of the theme that defines Sun we Rise. The album’s sentiments compose a poetic dissertation on the notion of crossing over, be it from this shore (“On the Edge”) or from this life (“Seven Knocks”). Death and departure are borne out for a public viewing, and are mirrored by visions of abundance and youth, revealed to be part of the same story of our belonging, outgrowing, and finding a new place to belong.
Theming is part of the organic unity that connects each song to the next. On my first listen, I was compelled to describe the opening track as a gentle instrumental aubade; track 2 then opens with the line “Wake, morning is yearning.” Words like “light” and “blood” recur, enough that it may be a coincidental or may be designed, and the idea of “rising” is ever present. Bridges extend from song to song and across the entire sequence.
If the lyrical trend is ever bucked, it is perhaps by my favorite selection, “In Clover.” It’s a thrilling bit of escapism rushed along by urgent strings and a desirous Oberkampf, who pleads, “I just wanna take control / Of my heart and soul.” Even here, though, we can see a need to get away to a new place that is hardly different from the needs expressed elsewhere on the album. The difference is only that between temporary and permanent.
Surveys say that we fear death nearly as much as we fear public speaking, yet the message of Sun we Rise is, from all angles, positive. From the ache of “Elegy” to the quite different blend of moods in “Elegy for Piano,” there is never a sense of wrong or resistance. The message resounds: “I’m ready, I’m reaching, I’m going.”
Elessar is a talented group of young artists who have made a promising start here. Visit their website (also in French!) to hear more and explore for yourself. Don’t be afraid to look beyond lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass, drum and vocals. A little bass saxhorn can be a beautiful thing.