I’m sure everybody who listens to Elvis Depressedly has their own nostalgic associations with his music. As soon as I hear the strings on “My Lai (Amy’s Version)” or the snaps on “N.M.S.S.,” I’m transported back to a Starbucks, doing homework for hours while waiting for a guy to text me back. Elvis Depressedly’s music is quaint, personal, weird. For me, it’s also a time capsule of a period in my life consumed by unrequited yearning. As dramatic as this seems now, I still listen to this music fondly, and I admire its ability to be so affective.
Who Owns the Graveyard?, Elvis Depressedly’s latest release, unfortunately fails to make me feel the same way. It’s a shame, not only because I’m a fan, but because this is Mathew Lee Cothran’s final album under the Elvis Depressedly alias. Recorded in a professional studio in Cleveland, Who Owns the Graveyard? presumably has the highest production value of the independent musician’s entire discography. A feature length film/visual album was even created to accompany the record’s release. And yet, despite these grand gestures, I feel indifferent toward this album, unable to identify with an artist I’ve respected for years.
Part of this detachment is likely due to the lack of nostalgia that allows me to romanticize the past. Beyond that, though, Who Owns the Graveyard? just doesn’t feel like an Elvis Depressedly record, and I can’t put my finger on exactly why. Perhaps the bells and whistles of a professional studio neutralized the intimacy of the previous records, which is what drew me to them in the first place. More quantifiable, however, is the difference in the songs’ runtimes. Prior Elvis Depressedly albums are characterized by their brief lengths, each song resembling a charming vignette more than a fully realized production. No song overstays its welcome, and it affords an emphasis on tone rather than narrative. With this new release, the songs are simply longer, and I think this dilutes their impact. It seems equivalent to watching a film that would be really solid as a ten minute short, but when stretched out over an hour and 40, it’s just alright. The only track that feels justified in its length is “On Earth,” a poignant rock ballad laden with guitar pedals and drum fills that form an impenetrable wall of sound.
Nevertheless, there are notable highlights, including the darkly comical “Say Hi.” “If you’re at the lowest point of your life / Say hi / Let me see your hands in the air / From the lowest point of your life,” Cothran encourages behind the disguise of autotune. Something about rejoicing in the face of crippling depression is inexplicably funny, and there’s comfort in acknowledging the others out there who are also just trying to make it through the day. I also have an affection for “In That Sound,” “Piper,” and “Lay It In,” probably because they most accurately echo my favorite Elvis Depressedly songs from older albums, but it took multiple listens to distinguish these tracks from the rest of the lineup.
Overall, Who Owns the Graveyard? is a bit of a letdown. The 14 songs primarily feel like an extensive B-side to 2020’s Depressedelica, which is my least favorite Elvis Depressedly record, though I’ve come to appreciate it over time. I’m sad the conclusion to this project’s discography is somewhat anticlimactic, but that doesn’t mean this is the last time we’ll hear from Cothran. In fact, the artist has several projects planned under his various monikers. In a recent Instagram post, he confirmed a second album under the name The Goin’ Nowheres is in the works, and he’s also hinted at an additional Coma Cinema release, another one of Cothran’s projects that has garnered a cult following. Despite my dissatisfaction with Who Owns the Graveyard?, I’m optimistic about what’s to come. Elvis Depressedly might be done, but this is nowhere near the end for Cothran and his listeners.