Album review: Elms – Parallel Lines EP 

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Elms is a sort of soft rebirth for Chelsey Cope, but it also represents something of a sacrifice.

Oklahoma audiences have already been familiarized with Cope’s searing brand of alt-folk over the past few years. She has steadily built a following with her formidable debut EP, A Deeper Root, and even nabbed a small part in Rudderless, the Oklahoma-shot music drama and William H. Macy directorial debut, in thanks to that undeniable talent.

And no doubt, Cope still owns this project with her charismatic presence (both in person and on record) and star quality, but to rebrand as Elms essentially says that these players she has assembled — guitarist Chavez Soliz, bassist Michael Bewley and drummer Billy Reid — and the sounds they are making are as essential to the process as she is.

She’s still in the spotlight, but her name is off the marquee, and to acknowledge that fact is humbling, brave and, as evidenced by the four-piece’s debut EP Parallel Lines, totally correct.

This doesn’t have the feel of faceless studio musicians (with the utmost respect to what they do) fleshing out a songwriter’s acoustic sketch for the sake of an album. The band cares as much about this music as Cope does and is just as spiritually invested in the process that demands equal ownership.

Different without being revolutionary in regard to A Deeper Root, the band has a new, distinct edge and vitality, the name Elms alone an indication that the quartet is dead-set on the tree-line-skying brand of indie rock. But they consistently dodge the traps that litter that trail in their five songs that owe as much to nature’s landscapes as any singular musical influence.

In said mode, there’s a tendency to hold those notes out longer, bigger, bolder (let’s call it the Band of Horses Effect). Elms maintain that aesthetic but subvert it in the same stroke (swampy standout “Journey Down”) with these chirpy little jab steps for a heartbeat of their very own, like St. Vincent anchored to Southern soil in lieu of floating in space. Soliz and Bewley again act as each other’s perfect foil in the subsequent “Father, Dear,” one smoothing out as the other edges more jagged — and back again.

Cope’s voice is as full of character as ever, her delicate rasp melted into a crisp, full-bodied delivery, and she culls each eccentricity out beautifully in lead single “Burn,” a hooky, high-noon anthem and patchwork of spunky yet gentle Western tones.

“Tyrant” is Parallel Lines at its most standard and rigid, but even then its impassioned execution (especially in a nicely constructed bridge) keeps a clear distance from slumberland. Morning-dew ballad “Change My Mind” is the fuzzy but potent cap to the cohesive but interesting collection, seeing Elms find a way to make a big impact with a sleek and slender arrangement, Cope’s vibrato and poignantly placed strings carrying much of the load.

Captured at Bell Labs Recording Studio, Parallel Lines is an exercise in effortless chemistry and the ease and impact that allows for. With these musical soul mates in tow, an already strong Cope now feels near invincible.

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Joshua Boydston

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