Elbow, "Giants of All Sizes" (Polydor/Verve Music Group)
With all the talk about bleakness and the experiences of anger and loss affecting "Giants of All Sizes," you'd imagine Elbow's eighth studio album arriving with an "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here" warning sticker.
But while there's plenty of heaviness and weariness, the Manchester band's empathy and flair for the hymn-like help alleviate the oppression.
Richly textured arrangements — the band returned to playing live in the studio — and brilliant compositions, along with the resourceful use of singer/lyricist Guy Garvey's layered vocals, not to mention his endearing pronunciation and a redeeming finale, also lift some of the emotional load off the listener.
The ingredients of extended opener "Dexter & Sinister" divide roughly into 60% ominous — mechanical grooves and neither faith, hope nor charity — and 40% dexterous, with a prog-rock coda, the album's best guitar riffs and outstanding vocals from Jesca Hoop.
The target of "Seven Veils" played the game too long, has been found out and definitively dismissed, while "Empires," which "crumble all the time," is very Brexity, with buzzing keyboards and a beautiful second section that's typically wordy, breathless and distressed and has an especially inspired bass line.
"White Noise White Heat" is a thumping reflection of pain and rage triggered by the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire in London, which killed 72 people, and by the apparent futility of the artist and his art in the face of such tragedy.
Still, the album ends with a trio of tunes that, in recalling what's important (for Garvey it's family, friends, the band and a new life), lay the foundations for better times ahead.
The exquisite "My Trouble" is a term of endearment elevated by a wondrous string section, "On Deronda Road" is an enduring memory and "Weightless" touchingly traces the passing of time and generations from grandfather to father to son.
"Giants of All Sizes" is one of Elbow's best, a record of its time that dares envision a brighter future.