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Album artwork for Vague Tidings by Elephant Micah

The raw inspiration for Vague Tidings, Elephant Micah’s third effort for Western Vinyl, comes from a DIY tour of the 49th state. It was a trip that went off the beaten path—sometimes a bit too far for comfort. Now, over a decade later, listeners find songwriter-producer Joseph O’Connell stationed at a creaky spinet piano, singing about the Alaskan sky. Throughout, his lyrics take a new angle on a pet theme: human encounters with the natural world. Vague Tidings places these encounters in the American West and, at times, in its sci-fi corollary, outer space. Its imagery draws from the allure of Alaska, the idea of Western prosperity, and the human relationship to wilderness more broadly. Often, O’Connell sings about the goal of capturing and commodifying nature. In poetic sketches of resource extraction industries and dark sky tourism, frontier lust runs amok. Pipelines catch fire and stars disappear, all to the tune of a stark, uncanny Americana.

It was 2006 when O’Connell received an unexpected invitation to gig in Alaska. Details were sparse, but the idea was seductive. He grabbed a guitar, boarded a discount flight in Indianapolis, and piled into an old RV in Anchorage with an assortment of other young folkies. What followed was somewhere between a concert tour, a camping trip, and an extended jam session, all taking place under the legendary midnight sun. By necessity, the venues were non-traditional—a public library here, a health food store there—and half the playing went unobserved by any audience at all. For a couple weeks, O’Connell immersed himself in Alaskan life: he cheered on the Homer 4th of July parade, drank from rivulets on the Matanuska Glacier, and, in a terrifying turn at the end of the trip, got stalked by a black bear at Hatcher Pass. When he caught his flight back to the lower 48, it was kind of a relief.

Unpacking, O’Connell found he had some new artistic resources at his disposal, including a camera full of low-res digital images and a greatly improved clawhammer banjo technique. So he started making songs. This new material expressed itself in metaphors of mountain climbing, gold prospecting, and stellar observation. An American tradition of cowboy bronzes and sublime landscapes tends to glorify Western expansion. For his part, O’Connell intended to cast doubt on it. Vague Tidings is a sustained, hallucinatory rendering of this theme. In style, its eight songs follow a switchback path between foggy incantations and mountain anthems. Made with a small cohort of acoustic instrumentalists, the record is rough hewn, but easy on the ears.

To put Vague Tidings down on tape, O’Connell assembled some of his favorite musicians in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina area, where he’s lived since 2015. They crowded into a converted utility shed and began to jam on the unearthed compositions. As much as the songs themselves, O’Connell’s collaborators shine. Libby Rodenbough (Mipso) bows and plucks a detuned fiddle, Matt Douglas (Mountain Goats) breathes life into various woodwinds, and Matt O’Connell (Chorusing, Lean Year) sets the pace on a two-piece drum set. Their loose, imaginative playing pushes Vague Tidings beyond singer-songwriter tropes into something richer in texture. Ultimately, this is foreboding but spacious music, with plenty of room for reconsidering life on earth.

Elephant Micah

Vague Tidings

Western Vinyl
Album artwork for Vague Tidings by Elephant Micah
LP

$22.99

Black
Released 04/09/2021Catalogue Number

WV214lp

Album artwork for Vague Tidings by Elephant Micah
CD

$14.99

Released 04/09/2021Catalogue Number

WV214cd

Elephant Micah

Vague Tidings

Western Vinyl
Album artwork for Vague Tidings by Elephant Micah
LP

$22.99

Black
Released 04/09/2021Catalogue Number

WV214lp

Album artwork for Vague Tidings by Elephant Micah
CD

$14.99

Released 04/09/2021Catalogue Number

WV214cd

The raw inspiration for Vague Tidings, Elephant Micah’s third effort for Western Vinyl, comes from a DIY tour of the 49th state. It was a trip that went off the beaten path—sometimes a bit too far for comfort. Now, over a decade later, listeners find songwriter-producer Joseph O’Connell stationed at a creaky spinet piano, singing about the Alaskan sky. Throughout, his lyrics take a new angle on a pet theme: human encounters with the natural world. Vague Tidings places these encounters in the American West and, at times, in its sci-fi corollary, outer space. Its imagery draws from the allure of Alaska, the idea of Western prosperity, and the human relationship to wilderness more broadly. Often, O’Connell sings about the goal of capturing and commodifying nature. In poetic sketches of resource extraction industries and dark sky tourism, frontier lust runs amok. Pipelines catch fire and stars disappear, all to the tune of a stark, uncanny Americana.

It was 2006 when O’Connell received an unexpected invitation to gig in Alaska. Details were sparse, but the idea was seductive. He grabbed a guitar, boarded a discount flight in Indianapolis, and piled into an old RV in Anchorage with an assortment of other young folkies. What followed was somewhere between a concert tour, a camping trip, and an extended jam session, all taking place under the legendary midnight sun. By necessity, the venues were non-traditional—a public library here, a health food store there—and half the playing went unobserved by any audience at all. For a couple weeks, O’Connell immersed himself in Alaskan life: he cheered on the Homer 4th of July parade, drank from rivulets on the Matanuska Glacier, and, in a terrifying turn at the end of the trip, got stalked by a black bear at Hatcher Pass. When he caught his flight back to the lower 48, it was kind of a relief.

Unpacking, O’Connell found he had some new artistic resources at his disposal, including a camera full of low-res digital images and a greatly improved clawhammer banjo technique. So he started making songs. This new material expressed itself in metaphors of mountain climbing, gold prospecting, and stellar observation. An American tradition of cowboy bronzes and sublime landscapes tends to glorify Western expansion. For his part, O’Connell intended to cast doubt on it. Vague Tidings is a sustained, hallucinatory rendering of this theme. In style, its eight songs follow a switchback path between foggy incantations and mountain anthems. Made with a small cohort of acoustic instrumentalists, the record is rough hewn, but easy on the ears.

To put Vague Tidings down on tape, O’Connell assembled some of his favorite musicians in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina area, where he’s lived since 2015. They crowded into a converted utility shed and began to jam on the unearthed compositions. As much as the songs themselves, O’Connell’s collaborators shine. Libby Rodenbough (Mipso) bows and plucks a detuned fiddle, Matt Douglas (Mountain Goats) breathes life into various woodwinds, and Matt O’Connell (Chorusing, Lean Year) sets the pace on a two-piece drum set. Their loose, imaginative playing pushes Vague Tidings beyond singer-songwriter tropes into something richer in texture. Ultimately, this is foreboding but spacious music, with plenty of room for reconsidering life on earth.