Must Hear Music
Reviews Archives
Bargain Basement
Music DVD
Send Us Mail
Contact Us

The Elms
The Chess Hotel
Universal South

The Elms are back to put more rock 'n' roll in your soul.

With a new bassist, new record deal, and new album, the Elms' visit to The Chess Hotel marks their long-awaited and much-anticipated return since 2002's critically acclaimed breakthrough, Truth, Soul, Rock & Roll. The Chess Hotel also marks the four-piece's debut on Universal South and represents a natural musical movement as they branch away from the Christian fringes to the circles of mainstream rock.

In short, the Elms is a Christian band that doesn't sound like a Christian band, one that plays more in the true spirit of classic rock. As such, Chess keeps regular doses of Stones- and Zeppelin-infused guitars intact, but it's also clear that the Elms' latest inspiration comes from more modern groups, from the alternative hooks of Oasis to the dark soul of late Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. The Elms continue to churn out their self-dubbed style of "swingin' Midwestern-bred rock & roll", but this time they get their hands dirty doing it with more beat- and bass-driven tunes that chug along, grime and all.

These influences may explain the shorter, edgier songs and charged-up attitude from enigmatic leader Owen Thomas. On opening track "I Am The World", he comes right out and dichotomously declares, "I'm the sickness and the cure/I'm polluted and pure/I am the world and I'm yours!", all to a White Stripes' elephant stomp. Most of the remaining songs revolve around Thomas's small-town observations of blue-collar life and godless people ("The Towers & The Trains", "Black Peach") and more of Thomas's unconventional tales in his ever-continuing quest for love. It's fairly standard songwriting for the Elms, but the way they express their faith through subtlety and real-world experience is what sets this Indiana quartet apart from their Christian brethren.

But perhaps the Elms' greatest strength lies in their ability to put genuine, visceral "rock & roll in your blood," which appears to be their mission statement. And like its forerunner, Chess has a Who-like road-tested energy that gives you a glimpse of the band in their stirring live form.

Overall, The Chess Hotel is a consistently good album, but its rootsier feel and sepia-toned sound make it slightly less enjoyable than Truth for this listener. But, whatever floats your "Lifeboat".

-Ken Devine

Standout Tracks: "She's Cold!", "Black Peach"

Track Listing:
1. I Am The World
2. Who Puts Rock & Roll In Your Blood?
3. Nothin' To Do With Love
4. Makes Good Sense
5. I Left My Body And Never Came Back
6. She's Cold!
7. The Chess Hotel
8. Bring Me Your Tea
9. The Way I Will
10. The Downtown King
11. Black Peach
12. The Towers & The Trains
13. I've Been Wrong

Check out more reviews

Talk Back
e-mail the chief

Like this article?
e-mail it to a friend!


Mike Doughty

none now

South By Southwest 2014
David DeVoe

South By Southwest 2013
David DeVoe

Red Hook Music Festival
George Dow

SXSW 2012
David DeVoe

Our Favorite Records 2011
Hybrid Staff

Rachel Fredrickson

Rachel Fredrickson

Warped Tour 2011
Rachel Fredrickson

Eddie Spaghetti
Melissa Skrbic-Huss

Murder By Death
Mike DeLeo

Mike Doughty
Boulder, CO

Denver, CO

Imagine Dragons
Denver, CO

Cambridge, MA

Young Magic
Denver, CO

Warped Tour 2012
Denver, CO

Denver, CO

Mike Doughty
Denver, CO

Kansas City, MO

Other Lives
Lawrence, KS

Los Campesinos
Boston, MA

The Civil Wars
Lawrence, KS

Ha Ha Tonka
Lawrence, KS

Lawrence, KS

hybridmagazine.com is updated daily except when it isn't.
New film reviews are posted every week like faulty clockwork.
Wanna write for hybrid? Send us an e-mail.
© 1996-2009 [noun] digital media. All rights reserved worldwide. All content on hybridmagazine.com and levelheadedmusic.com is the intellectual property of Hybrid Magazine and its respective creators. No part of hybridmagazine.com or levelheadedmusic.com may be reproduced in any format without expressed written permission. For complete masthead and physical mailing address, Click Here.