The trajectory of Manchester, England-based brooding rock outfit Elbow has not been a shortcut to superstardom. In fact, only now -- after 11 years of trudging through relative obscurity -- is the ban

The trajectory of Manchester, England-based brooding rock outfit Elbow has not been a shortcut to superstardom. In fact, only now -- after 11 years of trudging through relative obscurity -- is the band's ardor beginning to work in its favor.

Hopeful that the act's debut, "Asleep in the Back" (issued Jan. 22 via V2), will be both a commercial and critical favorite, singer Guy Garvey mentions the importance of the time spent by the band honing its craft. "If this is as far as it goes, if everything fell apart tomorrow, I'd like to say I've had a fantastic 10 years. We all met at 16 in sixth-form college, and we couldn't actually play when we first got together. We've all since trashed our educations, and we all have s*** jobs. This band has been the only thing that makes any of us relevant."

This stroke of stubborn perseverance enabled Elbow to shape "Asleep in the Back" into an eclectic set that embraces heady abstraction, anthemic rock, and pastoral balladry that is entirely underlined with a menacing and sinister aesthetic. Elbow's sound is hemmed in by an intuitive inter-band camaraderie, in which each musician contemplates various moods with encouragement from the entire unit.

Whether exploring a slow, bass-heavy Portishead-like groove on "Little Beast," a stark, piano driven sentimentality on "Newborn," or distortion and reverb-drenched chaos on "Bitten by the Tailfly," Elbow never seems to consider the notion that all popular U.K. acts should be entirely affable, gentle, and trustworthy. Where Garvey's gorgeous and smoky, Peter Gabriel-esque croon enraptures and soothes on the drowsy "Powder Blue," the track concludes with arresting, alarm call saxophones followed by the sound of breaking glass. While Elbow imbues each song with a heavy emotional gravitas, the band also inserts a frolicking rowdiness to tamper with listener expectations.

Lyrically, Elbow offers everyday, seemingly insignificant moments in simple illustrations and narratives. "This album covers our frustrations as a band trying to break out of a small-town environment," Garvey says of the lyrical content of the album. A song like "Any Day Now" -- with the repeating line "Any day now hows about getting out of this place/Anyways/Got a lot of spare time" -- tirelessly reflects the longing for bigger and loftier moments -- wherever they are to be found.

The title of "Scattered Black and Whites" suggests a practice Garvey often employs for penning ideas. "When I'd get stumped for lyrics," he says, "I would throw photographs on the floor and just look at them." The chorus of "Powder Blue" resonates with the picturesque lines: "Bring that minute back/We never get so close as when the sunward flight begins."

Lisa Klipsic, V2 product manager, says, "Though it's clear they write great pop songs, there are so many different levels entrenched in them. [The songs] are like stories. Unlike a lot of bands that are out to write the hit single and get so big so fast, Elbow has a commitment to their songwriting."

The first single, "Newborn," was sent to college radio Jan. 28-29, and Feb. 25 is the planned ship date for triple-A and modern-rock radio.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

Print