Ellen and the Escapades have made a record that cannot stay in the underground. It’s too big and too beautiful to simply live its life out as a password for hip-ness. The bulk of the material on ‘All The Crooked Scenes‘ has been around a good couple of years. In that time, precisely nobody has signed up the band. No matter. They started up their own label, Branch Out Records. From there they released an EP, ‘Of All The Times‘, and an Amazon Folk and Rock chart-topping single, ‘When The Tide Creeps In‘. Last October they started a Pledge campaign to pay for recording this album. Thanks to a devoted and rapidly increasing fanbase, they reached their target in a mere eight days.
Their long-loved EP material was damned good before; now, the songs sound nothing short of magnificent. ‘Run’s fade-up opening all but physically pulls you into this album, moving with noble and lovelorn grace. ‘Without You‘, their debut single back in 2009, is just as fresh and twice as energetic. Crisp, vivid production has brought out the best and brightest in these songs, so even die-hard Escapade fans may catch themselves holding their breath to hear this new/old music a little better. No need. Stick some headphones on. That seems to be the original intention, as a whole soundscape opens up once you press this music directly to your ear.
Suddenly you notice these songs are peppered with the faintest of whispery crackles and sparks and electric guitar groans. That’s Jeff Schneider, making a guitar sound so completely his own, it’s astounding. Try to listen to ‘Yours To Keep‘ without feeling every bell-like note tingling up your spine.
Perhaps it’s Ellen Smith’s songwriting that accommodates such innovative, accessible playing from the band. Her lyrics have an economical, understated quality so rarely heard in music, and so often copied from Ernest Hemingway in literature. Such fluency in expressing incredible pain might make tracks like ‘Coming Back Home‘ distressing to listen to without that dusky, enchanting voice of hers.
A tender, pensive mood permeates ‘All The Crooked Scenes’; in the songwriting, in the performances, even in the pacing of the tracklist. The Escapades’ sound is so distinct, so nakedly appealing, you practically have to tear yourself away from listening to it to make any objective sense of it. The very fact that you don’t even want to do that tells you everything you need to know about this band.
This album makes you want to relate every mystic whisper, every crashing change of chord of every showstopping song. It can’t be done, ladies and gentlemen. It can’t be done. You have to take this record in for yourself, and you’ll be glad you did. You’;ve got the touching sincerity of ‘I’ll Keep You Warm‘ to look forward to; the breathless thrill of the title track; even the striking ‘Cast‘, a brave indication of this band’s ambitions in albums to come.
You won’t hear everything Ellen and the Escapades put into ‘All The Crooked Scenes’ on the first listen. Nor the second. Nor the third. You’ll want to keep looking, and keep surprising yourself with what you find.