Ivory is an illicit substance. Elephants and other animals have been hunted to near extinction to support the market for ivory, the beautiful material stolen from the tusks and teeth of large mammals. Ivory is often associated with music, since it was historically used for the white keys on pianos. Carved ivory is art made from skeletal material, from dead or maimed animals.
Ivory is also the title of Elephant Rifle's new full-length album. The album title resonates with the band name in obvious ways: Ivory is the material an elephant rifle is usually aimed to obtain. There's very little actual piano on the album, however. It mostly consists of the raw materials of rock: electric guitar, bass and drums, along with a vocalist who, in live performances anyway, seems to channel John Belushi's impersonation of Joe Cocker. Elephant Rifle's music draws from '80s and '90s-style noise rock, like The Jesus Lizard, Shellac and Swans, with a bit of old-school hardcore and post-punk in the mix, along with a loving spoonful of the lascivious, cocksure swagger of '70s hard rock.
Elephant Rifle formed five years ago in Reno, Nevada, a hometown that might explain the band's underdog attitude. On Ivory, the band members sound like they might be struggling with the complex relationship implied by the band name and album title: beauty wrought by violence. They seem to be struggling against something anyway. The music is knotted, thorny, dissonant, noisy and often ugly—although cohesive songwriting is never sacrificed, and there are even occasional moments of humor: “Gold Standard,” for example, is a pop ditty about buying a boat. But most of the songs reference the album's strange theme: Death and animals. The instrumental opener, for example, is called “Hoof & Mouth.” “Dogs, Wolves, Wolverines” is a hardcore blaster about the resentment that wild animals might harbor toward their domesticated counterparts. The album closer is a stoner epic called “Horses,” a song that begins: “They say you die twice. First, when the breathe leaves from out your body. And then again when your final name's said the very last time, and then forgot.”