For a band that once wrote a song called "Simon (The Bird With the Candy Bar Head)," the decidedly un-psychedelic sound emanating from Elf Power's sixth full-length recording, Walking With the Beggar Boys, is more than a deviation -- it's a complete departure. Joining frontman Andy Rieger, multi-instrumentalist and ex-Neutral Milk Hotel member Laura Carter, and drummer Aaron Wegelin are Eric Harris, formerly with Olivia Tremor Control, and Craig McQuiston from the Glands. What sounds like an Elephant 6 love fest is actually an exercise in restraint, and after a few listens Walking With the Beggar Boys reveals itself as a near perfect little pop record. The leadoff single, the instantly gratifying "Never Believe," sets the tone for a set that's closer to Weezer than Of Montreal. The title track, an odd story about hanging out with a gang of beggar children in Warsaw, is a straight-ahead Southern rocker featuring the wonderfully warbly tenor of fellow Georgian Vic Chesnutt. Elf Power maintain their penchant for obscuro lyrics, but this time around the words are wrapped in a blanket of truth that may be a result of their communal record label/land conservation group called Orange Twin -- which currently owns a 150-acre spread of land on the outskirts of Athens that the members are turning into a self-sustainable, low-impact village and nature preserve. While tracks like "Invisible Men," which constantly threatens to turn into a John Cougar Mellencamp song, and the tight, Television-like "Big Thing" lack the complexity of their earlier works, Elf Power haven't abandoned their roots. "Don't Let It Be" bristles with the punk aesthetic of their debut (minus the four-track hiss), and "The Cracks," with its treated drums and swirling synths, sounds like an evil Flaming Lips. There are plenty of backwards cymbals and analog keyboard lines to keep devotees happy, but it's the songs themselves that reveal the band's new maturity, and nowhere is that rural contentment more evident than on the banjo-led "Empty Pictures," a bittersweet country hymn that deals with the very subject that these psychedelic veterans have been avoiding for nearly a decade -- reality.
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AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger