The Words You Spoke Still Move Me
ARTS & CRAFTS
“When I was 17 I moved to the other side of the world and joined what I’d now call a cult,” recalled Nabi Sue Bersche, lead singer of Ellevator, on her formative days spent in the Charismatic church. “I won’t deny that I had an incredible and life-changing experience there, but as I’ve gotten further away from it I’ve realized how there was way more damage done than good.” She brings that perspective on survival and truth-seeking to the Hamilton, Ontario trio’s debut album The Words You Spoke Still Move Me, produced by Chris Walla in all its shimmering, electric-piano-laden ecstasy and righteous anger. On “Slip,” Bersche pleads for freedom, singing from the perspective of a mythical selkie taken captive by a cult leader—by the bridge, she drowns him and returns to the sea, a different kind of baptism that lends credence to Ellevator’s cheeky claim in a recent Q&A to be the “World’s Hardest Soft Rock Band.”
It would be too easy to call The Words You Spoke a record about religion, dealing as much as it does with relationships, grief, and identity—even its thoughts on spirituality are more complicated than that, with “Charlie IO” taking aim at psychedelics as another mode of spiritual bypassing. But the language of sacrament is particularly potent for songs about vulnerability and lost innocence, and Ellevator’s verses are dense with repurposed images, from the selkie baptism to references to Sacred Hearts and getting drunk on communion wine. It could be my own baggage, but there are moments in which I’m convinced the band does something similar in their sound, which falls into even more interesting Venn diagrams than just hard and soft rock. They share a stadium-sized ambition with Canadian indie bands of the 2000s (most closely, Metric) that you could also attribute to the Christian rock of the same era, especially when the guitars soar in on the chorus of “Claws” (where, for some reason, I can’t help but think of Casting Crowns).
While Ellevator’s lyrics are startlingly grounded and their melodies are often impeccable, the soft atmospheres billow out to the point that they start to go thin. The energy also seems to peter out by the last track, “Party Trick,” one of a few misses that keep The Words You Spoke from feeling like a cohesive work rather than a strong collection of songs. Then there are tracks like “The Prism,” which verges on losing itself in vaporous guitars before Ellevator parts the fog and delivers one of the album’s most surprising and sobering shifts in tone, suddenly bare and vulnerable again. This is a flashy record, but unlike the charlatans it prophesies against, you can usually trust it to deliver fire when it shows you the smoke.