New Music: Oliver Elf Army are sending thoughts & prayers

The cover of Oliver Elf Army are sending thoughts and prayers.

“I been plowing this field a long time,” quipped Martin Adams, Oliver Elf Army’s guitartist, in a Facebook post this past February. Attached to the post was a photo of a flyer from the OK Hotel; Adams’ then-band Laudanum listed along with stalwarts such as The Squirrels, Jonathan Richman of Modern Lovers, and Matt Cameron of Soundgarden playing with a band called Pigpen. The date on the flyer is July 1993.

Mary Adams, OEA’s drummer, worked in record stores in the 90’s, either behind the counter or setting up window displays in stores around the Seattle area, and spent time at the register alongside Big Business’ (and The Murder City Devils’ and The Melvins’) drummer Coady Willis. She started drumming in her forties, playing along with Martin, harmonizing and taking turns singing in their new two-piece outfit they named after their son, Oliver. They called their shows “date nights.”

Henry J. Yarsinske spent his teenage years plying the dank basement punk scene of Marysville in the early 2000s, playing bass in a band here and there and landing in Everett’s Bad Optics for a spell. He made his name in Everett as a DJ for local radio station KSER, helming their premiere Friday night rock show, The Stereo Wire. Yarsinske started moonlighting on bass during Oliver Elf Army’s live sets in 2017.

Oliver Elf Army are sending thoughts & prayers is the culmination of all of these things and more. Their first full LP comes off as a sort of greatest hits compilation, snuggling a clutch of six new tracks with three old favorites from EPs past.

The album starts raging right off the bat with “Corvette Summer,” and it’s sort of shocking. Fans of OEA might wonder if they’ve purchased the right LP. Is this…metal? But no. Once the band has shaken all of the cobwebs out of your speakers, they very cutely and quietly tell us that “Nobody gets, just how happy we get, when they drive their Corvettes, off of the cliffs.” The good old black humor is back, along with what feels like a Part Two to their ode to drowning rich babies on “Bellevue Brats.”

Once when I was very drunk I heard Martin Adams challenge another songwriter to create a song using something like 20 words or less. “What is this, a musical Green Eggs and Ham?” my beery brain snarked to itself. But the truth is that Martin and Mary Adams are masters of the concise pop-rock nugget (and Green Eggs and Ham is a stone cold classic.) Oliver Elf Army are sending thoughts & prayers contains a couple of them, “864512GO!” and “Young Riddles.” The two songs couldn’t be more opposed thematically (the former a scathing hex on Trump and the latter a sugary sweet take on teenage relationships), yet both clock in around three minutes and don’t waste time getting the point across, in the process embedding in your brain.

“864512GO!” isn’t the only politically charged song on the record. “Nugent” is a spine-tingling dirge that tackles the NRA and gun control, or lack of it. One of the great things about these songs (as well as “Corvette Summer”) is that when OEA is mad, they thrash. Mary outdoes herself on “8645.” “Nugent” swings between plodding rage and hair-raising quiet. We’ve all heard about loud-quiet-loud (or is it quiet-loud quiet?) when it comes to rock and punk music (thank you, Nirvana by way of Pixies), and it’s employed to great success in these songs.

That being said, OEA shines the most when they tackle their favorite topic: space. Martin told me a few weeks back that his old band Laudanum wanted to be Seattle’s grungy answer to Catherine Wheel. But honestly, the crux of Oliver Elf Army are sending thoughts & prayers, “Space Ghosts,” could be seen as the band’s quirky “Black Metallic,” with its sonic washes of sound and the epic scope of its premise. Adams’ tale of a lone and lonely astronaut hurtling through space who is drawn in, siren-like, by the voice of an alien queen, is undeniably absurd, but at the same time it’s engrossing. She impregnates him, he blows her up, but “true love remains” as he circles “the black hole of her heart.” Mary delivers the voice of the Alien Queen, and her “Aaaaaaaaa Aa Aa” sounds insane, weird, and great as the chorus. Theremin is present in the song, but it sounds positively tortured to the edge of its capabilities; there is none of the usual spooky surf-vibe usually associated with the instrument. Yarsinske’s bass line powers us through the last third of the song. His influence is clear as day on the six new songs, his first on album with OEA. His work serves to open up even more space when paired with Adams’ guitar textures, taking their sound in new, unexpected, and welcome directions. Anyway, “Space Ghosts” is our favorite track and we really ought to stop going on and on about it. But we love it.

“You are a Fucking Miracle” is another expansive opus that focuses on shaking off the general cesspool that is social media, something that we all know we should do in our bones, yet can’t seem to do in practice. “Cyberspace is lonely, kind of stupid, kind of mean,” Martin and Mary sing together before getting direct: “Turn that fuckin’ thing off, lift your head to the sky!” The song is written for their son, telling him that his worth is more than likes or troll comments. “You are a fucking miracle,” they tell him, but this is probably something that we could all take to heart. The music is gorgeous and shiny, and it’s a beautiful way to end the album, notwithstanding all of the f-bombs.

Oliver Elf Army are sending thoughts & prayers is the album we need right now. The seeds may have been sown a long time ago, but the end result is worth all of the toil and time. It was created through a persistent love of music.

You may have noticed that the world is running differently these days, to put it mildly. Oliver Elf Army are postponing their album release show until a time when we are able to gather again. However, in order to mark the occasion, they will be livestreaming a set from Black Lab Gallery on Saturday, March 21st at 5PM with support from Sphyramid. You can join in via the event link below, and you can purchase limited edition LPs from Bandcamp. Digital copies are available as well on Bandcamp, and if your finances have been impacted by coronavirus, message the band and they will send you a free download link.

Livestream: Oliver Elf Army and Sphyramid:
March 21st at 5PM

Christine Mitchell has been poring over album liner notes pretty much since she acquired the skill of reading, and figured out the basic structure of rock songs at an early age. Whether it’s the needle popping into the first groove of the record, the beeps that signal the beginning (or end) of a cassette tape, or digital numbers ticking off the seconds from zero, music brings Christine happiness, ponderous thought, opportunities for almost scientific study, and sometimes a few tears. When she started attending live shows two decades ago, a whole new piece of the puzzle clicked in and she has been hooked ever since.