The Human Elephant
Circle Around The Moon






If the genre term Post Rock had not been coined yet, the humble reviewer would severely miss it in his sentence-building kit and mildly erudite linguistic repertory. The term causes rolled eyes not just by readers, but even by the respective artist whose work is put into this category. No surprise here, for I am going to do exactly that with John Edward Donald aka The Human Elephant’s Circle Around The Moon, a 14-track freeborn work released on Mexico's Umor Rex Records in October 2013. Distributed by Thrill Jockey and Morr Music, the album comes in the shape of a pro-dubbed chrome tape with a four-panel inlay and includes a redeemable download code for the digital edition which can also be fully streamed and purchased at Bandcamp. The Human Elephant has previously released a comparably energetic Rock-infested album called White Thunder (Umor Rex, 2011), but Circle Around The Moon is strikingly different in that it is a collection of collaborations, beat-accentuated mill premises, egregious elations, Drone washes and beatless Ambient capsules, envisioned as early as 1995! The genre Post Rock, no matter how fuzzy and antediluvian it might seem, is the most astute one I can think of in regard to the tape’s endemic variety, even though the work contains small doses of Industrialism and Synth Pop attributes as well. Running 47 minutes and sporting team-ups with Drum ’n Bass luminary and Dubstep wizard Sam Shackleton as well as Bernd Jestram of Tarwater fame, Circle Around The Moon is a spheroidal work of psychedelic tone sequences, ardent mirages, Punk placentas and nuclei of camouflaged old samplers, with detailed impressions coming up in the following paragraphs. Daniel Castrejón of Umor Rex has, as usual, kindly provided the album for this review and additionally pestered The Human Elephant with my specific questions. His answers decidedly improve this in-depth review, I'd wager. 


The tape as photographed by Daniel Castrejón of Umor Rex Records.


The kick-off phase of Circle Around The Moon is not particularly compatible with the specific needs of the Ambient fan in general, let alone the Drone fan in particular, but The Human Elephant somehow manages to astutely carve out the poignant synergy between vestigial Eurodance and Gothic sybaritism which culminates in the opener Duel On The Dancefloor. What’s your poison: inebriated duh-duh-duh lyrics, Vangelis-evoking super-arpeggiated dark matter prongs or liquedous-ligneous baubles in-between the static noise-alloyed lyrics about vacations, shadows and damages? All of it, naturally! What works so well in this opaque cosmicology lesson – which finds its way back to the Ambient genre, of all things – is the absent bassline. One can almost smell its pheromones and sense its ultraviolet aura, but it is not there, only partially simulated by the bubbling murkiness. Static noise flecks spawn asbestus particles that scythe through the forsaken noosphere, whereby that sphere carries the eternally loved word “no.” And indeed: John E. Donald says no to pumping 4/4 stompers and creates a shady arcanum of laissez-faire in the Atomic Age. It is the primordial setup for – and harbinger of – all the things yet to come. Take the following concubine named Catherine with her disturbing fairy-tale physiognomy of aqueous guitar licks shimmering in benign gold, reverberated rockfall riots and aerose bursts of clanging horror. “The answers do not become immediately apparent,” Donald announces rotatorily, and the portent of this message is only amplified by the heartwarming guitar placenta which is almost torn apart by the mezzanine Mesopotamian mess.


Apocalyptic colors also reside in what I would call the Jestram triptych, as all these pieces are recorded and produced by Bernd Jestram. Are You My Love gives in to the Kosmische Disco sound akin to Norse luminaries such as Prins Thomas and Hans-Peter Lindstrøm or even Luke Slater, as it intertwines pseudo-euphoric glitter balls and jagged robot strings with breakbeat arabesques and The Human Elephant’s deep chorus. The crepuscular Depeche Mode sound comes to mind, but Are You My Love is much more pressing, eager to absorb what nostalgia is left, even if it were a mere figment. The triptych’s centric apex Rooftoops is once more graced with ambivalence. It is both an interpretation of Edgar Broughton’s original and also a previously withheld corker Jestram and Donald planned to release under their psychedelic moniker Rats Live On No Evil Star. As such, its value is undoubtedly important for this album, and comparably silky it is, too. Streamlined bass guitars and classic drum kits coalesce with arpeggiated backing lyrics, pitched Rave counterparts and Flanger fucks, business as usual in the world of The Human Elephant, but wait for the climax near the end and be enchanted! City-strolling brass burps waft around pentatonic synth-oid somethings, and before you know it, a jocular mayhem is all yours. Your Letters rounds off the technocratic tohubohu with a purified – but not pure – circumambience of rural bonfire guitar base frames, foggy vesicles sounding like cyber-crows, particularly upfront vocals by John E. Donald (who makes vacillating lyrics such as “your letters send me over the edge” all the more disturbing) and a seraphic backing choir that prepares for the tragedy to reach Greek dimensions. What this Jestram triptych ultimately showcases is the interstitial alcove filled with brazen industrialism and omniscient Synth Pop spheres. Forced ostracism and self-imposed eremitism are superimposed. The interim result is heterodox… and perversely worshipped.


And so Circle Around The Moon continues its majestic transfiguration of stylistic clefts, crestfallen crevasses and roadside ravines, and while The Human Elephant presents aural leftovers and postponed collaborations with this album, both the endemics and overarching narratology are coherent and stringent… in displaying the imminent threat of explosion, and that one is not of the Cambrian kind. The album’s second half does indeed feel more organic though, with Folk-sy amalgamations of bubblegum-accentuated lute lands as in Fantastic Knight Of Columbus or the acoustic guitar-fueled witticisms found in, near and around Jimmy. It isn’t until Nine Dollar, however, that Reggae-infested rays of sunlight reach the ears of the listening subject. For once, John E. Donald sacrifices the histrionic film noir sound for palmtree-covered guitar globs, Manhattan handclaps plus asphalt beats and last but not least, lachrymose guitar aortas of the agrarian kind. The bursts and eruptions are jingle-worthy, the whole tune gleams and glows. A wondrous intermission which ultimately leads to another triad that could be called the "What triptych": What The Sponge Said As A Backseat Driver emanates designedly off-key guitar chords, again of the smarmy kind, smelling like sunscreen, whereas What The Whale Said To The Sponge simulates – or mocks? – a delightful New Age antrum supercharged with plinking bells, coruscating chimes and sparkling scintillae. Specks and dots gyrate around a dun-colored guitar plateau which is pestered by static noise protrusions and fuzzy field recordings complete with 8-bit polyphony. The closer What You Eat For New Year cross-fades into the Drone washes, but ultimately places a grim Birmingham beat in close proximity to howling dogs, vulturine beasts, desiccate Gospel vestibules and crunchy guitar improvisations. What indeed. Or to use an old internet meme: "What is this, I don’t even…?"


An ophidian work of polyhedric heterodynes, translucent vestibules and precisely carved out visions, Circle Around The Moon does impose a fragile golden thread, even though it does not sport a climax that is open to scrutiny, for at the end of the day, it is simply a collection of fresh leftovers and willfully isolated tracks which, as the old adage goes, “speak for themselves” rather than functioning as mandatory constituents to the shaped aesthetics. It facilitates the opportunity to present further material by John E. Donald and Bernd Jestram who record music under Rats Live On No Evil Star, another moniker of galactic proportions that makes the album title all the more poignant despite the earthbound turmoil that resides on the tape reel. Tracks like the club-friendly opener Duel On The Dance Floor which seduces DJ’s to include their very own beat structure, the ambivalent celestial threnody of Are You My Love, the rural badger ode Fantastic Knight Of Columbus or the distantly New Age-oid bellorama What The Whale Said To The Sponge emanate alatoric airflows, krafty kaleidoscopes and zestful zoetropes with only one ubiquitous constant: fluxion. Naturally, Circle Around The Moon does indeed have a set of textures which is rearranged and pieced together anew, among them clear cut guitars plus ones with grafted frequency-bending filters, synth-oid sparks and vocals, classic drum kits and droning bass runlets. The end result is therefore not completely arbitrary and allows The Human Elephant to fathom out a certain stringency. And yet the tape works best when the respective parts are enjoyed, not the sum itself. Post Rock is indeed the best name to describe the ingredients for the time being; and Circle Around The Moon is about time… quality time.



Further listening and reading:

  • You can purchase and full stream the tape at Bandcamp.
  • Follow the Umor Rex label on Twitter: @UmorRex.



Ambient Review 275: The Human Elephant – Circle Around The Moon (2013). Originally published on Oct. 23, 2013 at