From where I'm standing, two of the rawest deals dealt out by the indie rock fame machine since the early '90s have been to the bands Silkworm and Elephant Micah. Indeed, they are so criminally underrated in my estimation, I make a habit of regularly contacting my state and local representatives to criminalize the act of not owning at least one record by each group. This endeavor, as I imagine you have guessed, has gained little traction. For Silkworm I can understand this (at least a little) since the band no longer makes records and hasn't since about 2005. Elephant Micah, however, is a different story entirely.
Elephant Micah is the Indiana-based (or, as he describes it, Kentuckiana-based) folk music project of Joseph O'Connell. Since the early 2000s he has released a steady stream of consistently excellent acoustic guitar-based music. The music occasionally flirts with elements of the avant-garde; sometimes there are flourishes of noise or atonal jamming, though they always lead back to a familiar emotional center.
“Familiar,” however, should not be mistaken for “boring.” Though a typical Elephant Micah song consists of little more than O'Connell's powerful falsetto gliding over Harvest-esque drumming and driving, fingerpicked acoustic guitar, the songs are significantly more than the sum or their often meager parts. A lot of this probably rests on the power of O’Connell’s voice, though it’s hard to articulate exactly what it is about his voice that’s so affecting. It’s got the earnestness of Bruce Springsteen without all the bluster (i.e. there are few sonic similarities between the two, but both singers have the ability to convey a genuineness of emotion circling below the surface) and it’s got the high lonesome ring of Neil Young paired with the quiet subtlety of Phil Elverum.
Furthermore, I submit that this music is virtually unparalleled in its capacity to evoke the seasonal changes that happen around this time of year. There is a powerful feeling of simultaneous transience and permanence. They’re comforting and unsettling at the same time. These albums, and Elephant Micah’s music in general, is really fall music. It complements perfectly the various cool breezes, smells of burnt leaves, and the ever-earlier darkness in the evening.
If you're looking for a place to start in their constantly expanding discography, my first recommendations would be two recent full length albums, Exiled Magicians, and Echoer's Intent. Exiled Magicians is a bit more of a fleshed out album, with a wider array of instrumentation, where Echoer’s Intent is a spare, mostly solo sound. And for as succinct of a summary of what Elephant Micah is about as is possible, I would direct you to the song “Still Life Blues” from Echoer's Intent. The slow, loping rhythm coupled with the sound of a hand banging against the strings as if the player is nearly overcome with feeling only to sublimate it through the guitar, and the mournful melody lend that song a type of power that truly must be heard to be believed.
It's unfortunate that it's the quiet stuff in this world that so often gets overlooked because it chooses not to assert itself. I earnestly beg of you, dear reader, to take a moment of quiet to listen to the excellent music of Elephant Micah, and, you know, if you're so inclined, contact your representatives.