The Advantage Elf-Titled

[5RC; 2006]

Rating: 5/5

Styles: math rock, soundtrack
Others: Trans Am, The Fucking Champs, Mario Bros. 3, Hella, Mr. Bungle

In Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces, he outlines major, universal elements that recur in countless myths through the history of man — elements that are deeply compelling in a way that speaks to everyone, regardless of language, religion, or any other cultural factor. It is considered to be one of the most significant works of the 20th Century, and with The Advantage, Campbell's message has found its musical voice.

Their self-titled LP of 2004 introduced us to their unique style: short yet hugely anthemic pieces that were oddly familiar, tapping into the same region of our universal unconscious that houses the most essential parameters of the basic hero story. Armed, fittingly, with an instrumental lineup deeply rooted in the rock tradition, The Advantage abstracted these parameters, weaving them into a vivid collage of mini-epics, presenting them to us in a disorderly fashion, and thereby bringing them into relief so that we may better understand them. Their bizarre, enigmatic song titles — "Castlevania 3 - Epitaph," "Blastermaster - Stage 2," "Contra - Boss Music" — hinted at enormous story arcs, as varied and intricate as any that have been written: The Myth condensed into musical poetry.

Now they've returned with Elf-Titled, which, while stylistically very similar, demands deeper inspection to reveal the message behind their exploration of mythological themes.

The overall tone of the record, firstly, is much darker and confused; although neither album focuses on a particular stage in the journey outlined by Campbell, Elf-Titled accentuates the struggle faced by the hero in and immediately prior to his confrontation with the main adversarial force. Examine, for instance, the difference between their two "Bomberman" pieces, only one of many storylines to be revisited by the band. This new installment, "Bomberman 2 - Wiggy," employs some of the same elements as "Bomberman 2," but is clearly taking place later in the quest, whatever it may be. You can feel the amplified tension, foreshadowing what is sure to be an earth-shattering conflict, not unlike that demonstrated in abundance elsewhere on the album (namely, in "Solar Jetman - Braveheart Level," "Guardian Legend - Corridor 1," and "Castlevania II - Woods," to mention a few cases).

Why, then, this emphasis on the violent and menacing aspects of myth? What is the conflict being suggested by The Advantage? The answer can be pieced together from subtle clues hidden within the album, the least subtle of which is the cover imagery. Their self-titled album featured a gray polyhedral ship careening through the vacuum of space, a pure, unpolluted, almost holy place. Now the ship has landed, apparently, on a beach, surrounded by earthly elements: sand, water, cement, and humans — more specifically, bikini-clad women washing (ironically, as we'll see) the ship, as the band members peer warily out of its front. Symptomatic of this introduction to Earth is a broadened instrumental vocabulary (some of it synthetic), as well as the first prominent vocal presence, in the "Wizards & Warriors" suite.

With these details in mind, we begin to see that the enemy being proposed by The Advantage is none other than the human condition itself. Not only does the cover feature both eroticism and pain (in the form of a fallen, bleeding rollerskater), but, in the case of both albums, the pieces named for earthly things ("Contra - Snowfields," "Ninja Gaiden - Mine Shaft," "Double Dragon III - Egypt," "Castlevania II - Woods," etc., etc.) tend to deliver the strongest sensations of conflict.

The Advantage, amazingly, in using the elements of myth in their music, are beginning to articulate their own hero's quest: it is our quest with life, with ourselves. Elf-Titled ends promisingly in "Victory," but it appears that we'll have to wait for their next release to learn the rest of the story.

1. Batman - Stage 1
2. Contra - Alien's Lair & Boss Music
3. Double Dragon III - Egypt
4. Ducktails - Moon
5. Metroid - Kraid's Lair
6. Air Fortress - not fat iced caramel hazlenut soy latte with extra whipped cream
7. Bomberman 2 - Wiggy
8. Castlevania - Intro + Stage 1
9. Solar Jetman - Braveheart Level
10. Goonies 2 - Wiseman
11. Double Dragon II - Mission 5; Forest of Death
12. Castlevania III - Boss Music / Willow - Village / Megaman II - Bubble Man
13. Megaman II - Stage Select + Metal Man
14. Castlevania II - Woods
15. Guardian Legend - Corridor 1
16. Wizards & Warriors - Tree Trunk / Woods / Victory