Sep 28

Elephant Gym + Mei Semones

Elephant Gym,

Mei Semones,
Union Stage All Ages
Doors 7PM | Show 8PM

About the event

Elephant Gym

Formed in 2012 in Kaohsiung City, Taiwan, the experimental trio Elephant Gym interlace threads of jazz, electronic, and classical into a singular patchwork of contemporary math- and post-rock. At once evoking the towering, boisterous essence of elephants, and the acrobatic, dexterous nature of a gymnast, Elephant Gym’s sound feeds off tension and unlikely contrasts.

World, a commemoration of their 10th anniversary as a band, expands on their signature elements, the combination of which Pitchfork describes “as close to jazz as rock: virtuosity not as a means of showing off, but approaching the sublime.” World also features a host of international and local collaborators, tapping the varied talents of Shashaa Tirupati, ?te, Seiji Kameda, YILE LIN, Hom ShenHao, and the Kaohsiung City Wind Orchestra.

Elephant Gym songs often find bassist KT Chang as the lead voice, her nimble, expressive playing style a signature imprint of the Elephant Gym sonic character. Sibling Tell Chang meshes deftly on guitar and occasionally keys, with Chia-Chin Tu’s elastic drumming as a malleable anchorpoint between his bandmates’ funk-and-jazz-infused chops.

The trio’s tenure has seen the release of a handful of EPs and three previous full lengths, Angle (2014), Underwater (2018), and Dreams (2022), as well as a number of collaborations that span the spectrum of the arts, ranging from theater productions to traditional percussion ensembles.

Mei Semones

Mei Semones’ sweetly evocative blend of jazz, bossa nova and math-y indie rock is not only a way for her to find solace in her favorite genres, but is an intuitive means of catharsis. “Blending everything that I like together and trying to make something new — that’s what feels most natural to me,” says the 23-year-old Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter and guitarist. “It’s what feels most true to who I am as an artist.” On her newest EP and Bayonet Records debut Kabutomushi, Mei’s diverse sonic palette adds depth to her experiences of the complexities of love. Through the EP’s five songs, she chronicles infatuation, devotion, vulnerability, and saying goodbye in some of her closest relationships, complete with sweeping strings, virtuosic guitar-playing and heartfelt lyrics sung in both English and Japanese.

Originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan, Semones began playing music at a young age, starting out on piano at age four before moving to electric guitar at age eleven. After playing jazz guitar in high school, she went on to study guitar performance with a jazz focus at Berklee College of Music. College is where she met her current bandmates, including string players Noah Leong and Claudius Agrippa, whose respective viola and violin add softness and multidimensionality to Mei’s intricate guitar work. After releasing a slew of singles and an EP in 2022, coinciding with her move to New York City, Mei and her band have since gone on to collaborate with post-bossa balladeer John Roseboro and embark on their first-ever tour with the melodic rock outfit Raavi.

Though Mei’s music has always been a distinct combination of her gently saccharine voice with dynamic musical arrangements, Kabutomushi shows her delving into aspects of her musicianship that she’s never explored previously. Plinking guitar tones and asymmetrical time signatures exemplify her forays into angular indie rock more now than ever before, most evident on the single “Wakare No Kotoba,” its wide-interval arpeggios in odd meters being some of the most technically difficult guitar work Mei has ever implemented in her songwriting. Translated to “parting words” in English, the self-described “anti-love song” serves as a farewell to a toxic friendship, complete with orchestral swells and crashing guitars. In the same sonic vein is “Inaka” (“countryside”), which details Mei’s daydreams of moving somewhere more pastoral during a period of exhaustion resulting from the hustle and bustle of newfound city life. Here she directly addresses her beloved with words of loyalty and adoration in wanting to build an idyllic life somewhere new together, while cinematic strings add romantic flares aside Mei’s leading guitar. Throughout the EP, her straightforward, girlish vocal delivery calls to mind that of the late bossa nova great Astrud Gilberto, while also having drawn comparison to Japanese contemporaries Ichiko Aoba and Lamp.

All of the songs that comprise Kabutomushi are written and sung in both English and Japanese, with Mei wanting to stay connected to her first language in a creative way. The EP title translates to “rhinoceros beetle” in English, named after the horned insect that she would spot and catch in the park when visiting her grandmother in Japan growing up. The title track is a reminiscent ode to those childhood trips — a series of nostalgic vignettes that evolve into a bittersweet apology to her late grandmother. Keeping things stripped-down with the help of electronic subtleties and plucked strings, Mei’s voice intertwined with her guitar come off as a poignant lullaby of treasured memories long-gone, but not forgotten. It’s songs like “Kabutomushi” that encapsulate Semones’ sonic trademarks: ornately catchy, genre-fusing compositions serving as the backdrop to tender lyrics touching on the universalities of human emotion.

Kabutomushi is out April 5, 2024, on Bayonet Records.

This show is at Union Stage

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740 Water Street SW
Washington, DC 20024