All too often, the "folk singer/songwriter" label is a warning shot, promising pseudo protest music, self-indulgent hippie strumming, mid-tempo banality, coffee shops in Boulder, sometimes all four at once. Elvis Perkins is not that kind of singer/songwriter. For Perkins, the label is merely a descriptor for the fact that he writes and sings. That's about where the comparisons to standard singer/songwriter fare end. On the eponymous debut of his band, Elvis Perkins in Dearland, the folk aspect of his pedigree gets a rather loose interpretation. The album opens with the shuffling beat and trilling hammond of "Shampoo", with Perkins' strong vocals straining just enough to fit the slightly melancholic lyrics, with occasional punctuations of bluesy harmonica for reinforcement. "Hey" comes next, feeling like a stripped-down Arcade Fire track gone a bit country. "I Heard Your Voice in Dresden" kicks off with a driving, almost martial drumbeat, with Perkins' tenor acrobatically offsetting the restrained feel of the song.
Throughout, the comparison to Arcade Fire holds true, due in large part to the combination of eclectic instrumentation and highly emotive soundscapes. Even "Doomsday," which starts out with woozily somber brass, turns into a vibrant folk-pop gem, uptempo and peppered with some of the most upbeat lyrics on the album ("I don't let doomsday bother me").
That sense of push and pull, somber lyrics paired with often jubilant music, is one of the things that sets Perkins apart from his folkie contemporaries. This is not sad-sack guitar and vocals music for open-mic nights and bedroom sessions. Elvis Perkins makes folk music for parties.
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With Other Lives and Tody Castillo, 8 p.m. tonight at Walter's on Washington, 4215 Washington, 713-862-2513 or www.pegstar.net.