Ever since the breakup of the original set of Elephant 6 bands, there's been a lack of those free-floating, amorphous groups that coalesce, split, and re-combine like amoebas with ADHD, lasting for one or maybe two albums, then collapsing before the same set of players gathers behind a different singer/songwriter (Marshmallow Coast, Music Tapes, Major Organ & the Adding Machine, etc.). However, the Athens contingent of Elephant 6 has slowly been realigning itself under the banner of Orange Twin Records, a label collective primarily run by members of the band Elf Power, and the Instruments Cast a Half Shadow is a return to the late-'90s glory days of this scene. The ringleader of this circus is singer/songwriter Heather McIntosh, whose list of credits incorporates Of Montreal, Japancakes, Circulatory System, and close to a dozen others. The other ten players on the album read like a who's who of Elephant 6 (major players Will Cullen Hart, John Fernandes, and Jeff Mangum, among others), but McIntosh's tremulous voice, folk-tinged melodic sense, and haunting cello are at the album's forefront. There's very little in the way of traditional pop/rock drumming here, and even the fullest arrangements, such as the expansive instrumental "Branches for Many Birds," have plenty of open space. Elsewhere, there are songs like "Our Lovely Ladder," a co-write with Hart that's so pleasantly insubstantial that the squeaks of the strings on McIntosh's acoustic guitar are louder than her vocals. Amorphous but rarely in danger of drifting off into tuneless ambience (a constant problem with the original set of E6 bands), Cast a Half Shadow may not please fans of the tight, concise pop of the Apples in Stereo wing of the Elephant 6 scene, but it shows half-baked freak folk acts like Devendra Banhart how real psych-folk is done.
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AllMusic Review by Stewart Mason