Every now and again a little chuckle escapes. You don’t mean to, but you just can’t help it. And you don’t mean it in a bad way, it’s anything but that. But sometimes the lyrics are just funny, and surely Craig Elkins knows this.
I Love You, the first solo album under the ex-Huffamoose frontman’s real name, is track after track of somewhat dark, bleak humor. That being said, Elkins does not necessarily write the happiest of songs. He does write the truth however, and does so in such a blunt manner so as to make I Love You into a funny, odd, and quirky album that works its way up to being put on repeat.
“Offin Myself” opens the record with a currently popular mellow, indie sound. Elkins’ soft vocals are accompanied only by acoustic guitar as he sings “I’ve been thinkin’ about offin myself. I’ve been thinkin about my home, and I’ve been thinkin’ about my family.” Despite the morbid lyrics, Elkins’ pronouncement that “At times I have been a real prick,” and the theme of suicide, the song carries a gentle lull as each line ends in a slight crescendo. Fans of Tom Waits’ “Grapefruit Moon" and bands akin to Bright Eyes would love the song, but as it moves into track two with a complete lack of transition the album takes a turn to a more indie folk/country sound similar to that of Monsters of Folk.
Heavier, more dissonant guitar embodies “Tell em My Story,” lurching the listener from that soft lull into a stout, dejected grunge feel. While the riff that runs throughout is nowhere near as bold or clearly defined, it calls to mind Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl.” And so it is from here that the greater sound of the album is established. “Can’t Stop Being a Dick” picks up in full on the classic old country twang with steel string guitar and gravely vocals. “Tumbleweeds,” one of the first single with a music video, takes it one step further by adding in mandolin, speeding up the tempo to make it the most upbeat song and also one of the more catchy, radio friendly tunes.
It’s clear Elkins makes good music. It’s clear he has a good voice, taking it from crescendos down to a gravel. It’s in the way Elkins uses his voice in combination with the lyrics that makes it all a bit peculiar. In “Can’t Stop Being a Dick” Elkins wails more than sings about how “I get out of bed every morning with the best of intentions that I remediately replace by these neurotic little inventions.” This method of half singing half talking is carried throughout the album, reminiscent of the vocal style of Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst. Elkins takes the harsh truth even further in this style with the lyrics of “Human Drag.” The bonus/hidden track shows Elkins in the prime of his wry, witty lyrics that lace the album together as he sings in the most deft yet nonchalant tone, “Being a fuckin’ human can be a really big fuckin’ drag, especially when you have to listen to somebody tootin’ their own horn.” Next to Bob Dylan’s “Idiot Wind,” there seems to be little hope between the two musician for humanity.
One listen to I Love You does not immediately illuminate the cleverness of Elkins’ off-beat lyrics or even the talent latent in the music itself. It’s an queer album with curious lyrics and a sound that it takes a of bit to get used to. For those willing however, the repeated listens are worth it. Once Elkins’ voice and singing style sink in, the music becomes enjoyable and suddenly the somewhat twisted lyrics become blithe in their insight and prudence. Fans of indie folk/country and those with an open mind and open ear would benefit from picking up the record. Sometimes the vocals aren’t perfect and sometimes the music is a little strange, but in its mirth and oddness I Love You is a well crafted piece of quirky ingenuity.