Elvis Depressedly’s ‘New Alhambra’ and Beyond: A Bedroom Pop Primer

Elvis Depressedly’s New Alhambra is a dark horse contender for the best album of the year. It’s a record full of lush, sedate, synth-heavy pop music that weaves in samples of televangelists and professional wrestlers, each side essentially functioning as its own extended, multi-part song. The songs conflate worship and entertainment,fire and brimstone and hell in a cell, a choir in a cathedral and entrance music over a tinny PA. It’s an engrossing listen, by turns tranquil, terrifying, heart-rending and inspiring.

The specter of Chris Benoit — the pro wrestler who, suffering from brain damage brought on by repeated chair hits directly to the head, killed his wife, son, and himself — hangs over the album. The lyrics seem concerned with the point where ring violence becomes real violence, where biblical wrath becomes personal tragedy (Benoit placed Bibles next to the bodies of his wife and son).

Opener “Thou Shall Not Murder” alludes to biblical commandments against violence, but it sounds resigned, disappointed, knowing that the command has been broken and will be again and again. The rest of the album seems to be an attempt to come to terms with that knowledge. The next song, “N.M.S.S.,” declares that “I love everyone that I have ever known”; juxtaposed with the resignation of “Thou Shall Not Murder,” it sounds less like a promise and more like a condition, a challenge: how can we reconcile our need to love with the terrible things that the people we love are so often responsible for?

New Alhambra is poised to be a potential breakout moment for a loosely defined scene that’s been bubbling around the edges of indie music for the past decade. It could loosely be termed “bedroom pop,” and it consists of artists who record in small, intimate settings, mainly distributing and finding collaborators online rather than being beholden to any regional scene.

It can be seen in labels such as Brooklyn’s Orchid Tapes, whose artists are geographically spread out but sonically have a clear influence on each other, often collaborating on each others’ records. The sleeve of label compilation Boring Ecstasy states that “Orchid Tapes has turned into a tight-knit group of people that we’re happy to call our family, despite the geography that restricts us from being able to see each other as often as we’d like to,” which summarizes well the rapport that these artists seem to share.

This is a group of artists, some of whom might know each other, play shows together, collaborate, or release on the same labels, and some of whom might not. They operate in different genres, different types of sound, with music that aims to achieve different things. On the next page you’ll find a haphazard list of essential releases from these artists — Orchid Tapes is the most unifying factor here, as all of these artists have had releases on that label, but not everything featured is those specific releases. The qualities they share are somewhat intangible, more emotional than sonic, and can be more easily felt than described:  if any of these releases intrigue you, the rest may well do so too.