Virtuoso guitarist Spencer Elliott and his fellow trio musicians, bassist Sean Sydnor and drummer Chris Hudson, perform a complex and ever-evolving style that likes to incorporate the concepts of progressive hard rock and metal, but channeled through acoustic guitar. . Without the veil of forgiving distortion, Elliott’s compositions must be delivered with precision and impeccably timed. This trio happens to be airtight, allowing Elliott to embark on wild explorations while the steady rock rhythm section keeps him going. Everything from elaborate neo-classical to gluteal funk is mixed in the pot to make the band’s fourth release, SE3, an expansive and mind-blowing musical adventure.
Soothing waves of echoing acoustic guitar provide a palette cleanser to open the album on lead single “Torque,” which is now out. The group enters with force by laying down a hard-hitting funk line with the grooves of the three players slaves to the authoritative downbeat of the snare drum. Elliott uses a hard-hitting hammer technique that blends seamlessly with Syndnor’s slamming bass in a riffing style that Animals as Leaders adopted on their third album, particularly the single “Physical Education.” Elliott switches to a section of brilliant harmonic pings, sounding like a chorus of orchestral bells. Sydnor takes a solo tastefully employing runs while the rest of the band sticks to minimal rhythmic accents. A return to the main chorus envelops the track with Hudson breaking away from his reserved but heavily pocketed groove to show off some masterful drum fills.
Throughout the album, Elliott sets up a clinic of very adapted styles, moving from one technique to another imperceptibly allowing the listener to get lost in the soundscape he is creating. Songs like “Silver Maple” and “The Tournament” showcase an incredibly inventive playing style that acoustic masters like Andy McKee used to wow viewers in YouTube’s early days. ‘Elipsos’ finds the band in hard-hitting territory with both string slingers landing their strikes in perfect unison for a spirited assault. ‘4_20’s initial guitar clinic evolves into wavy chords, rocking the boat in new ways. The penultimate “The Wolf and The Hawk” stands out for its loose playing with rhythm, giving way to nonchalant meanderings as opposed to the rest of the album’s pressing momentum. When the beat is steady, Hudson lays down a deeply satisfying groovy half. Based on this, Elliott lets loose once again. Each line leads brilliantly to the next with minimal repetition in a stunning showcase of creativity.
SE3 can be listened to with a guitar lover’s fine-toothed analysis and praised for its highly innovative playing and flawless execution. Or it can be enjoyed by the casual listener for its beautiful textures and transcendent mood. Either way, Spencer Elliott and Co. produced a wonderful piece of music from start to finish.