“We’re less Wagnerian and more Debussy-like now.” – From interview, Nov. 29, 2010
“It’s a Waltz. You can dance if you want.” – From the show
By: Josh Younggren
Everyone has something like it. The absolute, ultimate shit - for lack of a better term. Sonic-love that penetrates personality – makes you wish you could do those drugs, play that music, live that life, – that ultimately influences you. So, for the sake of this review, I should say that Earth has been one of those “bands” for me. They’ve put out an album every 5 years or so since their inception in 1989. The engraving on the A/B record of their ’08 LP The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull reads: “Slow People | Slow Music.” So let’s just get it outta the way: Earth Is SLOW. But damn are they consistent. Consistently Slow and Consistently the Shit. Regardless of my own personal opinions on consistency and my often ill-founded attempts at forcing anyone I know to listen to their music – I mean they did only define a genre, yeah, no big deal or whatever – Earth tends to be a band that a lot of people have heard of but not heard.
They stay under the radar. From the small amount of coverage their most recent album Angels of Darkness Demons of Light Pt. 1 received, to the impossible task of finding tour dates via google (search: Earth band Milwaukee), Earth still remains underground, whatever that means. Fifty people showed up to see them. Fifty. I was two feet away from the band. I can tell you every type of pedal, every drum, every tattoo, fuck, even how many cigarettes Carlson’s Camel Lights soft-pack had left. The Mad Planet in Milwaukuee is a gem. It’s in an area likely to be covered with new-asphalt and Whole Foods’ in a couple of years. For the time being, I can’t imagine many people have heard of this place. The stage is about as wide as the width of your apartment’s living room. Couches scatter the perimeter, “planetary” lights add color, and the pinball machine is 50¢. The crowd was very supportive. Even for the opening act.
At 10:30, Earth came on stage. I made my way, easily, to the front. The biggest question for me and the handful of people I heard discussing this before the show was more of a statement: I hope they’re fucking loud as hell. As long as I’ve been listening to this band, I’ve assumed they would decimate ear drums. Like the dynamics of Boris, Sunn O))), even ISIS, I assumed giant amp-stacked monoliths would line the horizon. I was so wrong. Their setup was closer to that of Bill Frisell’s Beautiful Dreamers: three modest looking amps sat on stage. Adrienne Davies’ bass drum was easily the biggest thing up there. Carlson’s new version of Earth is the now consistent duo of guitar and drums (Carlson and Davies), augmented by touring bassist Angelina Baldoz and cellist Lori Goldston.
The first notes of “Old Black” said it all. Earth was playing an intimate set: I’m talking the kind of sound that surrounds. The kind of music founded on fidelity, not sheer dynamic intensity. They created a place you could live in. The mix was amazing, and I know it wasn’t the sound guy – I saw him playing pinball before the show started. My friend beat his score. This was a mix that came from hours of rehearsals and road dates. “The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull” followed. Lori Goldston is brilliant. The newest member in the band, both in addition and aesthetics, her playing was amazingly inspired. In a recent interview conducted by none other than Goldston on the band’s website, Carlson described Earth as an evolution of sound and aesthetics. “I go back and I listen [to our albums], and – maybe just because it’s me; everything sounds continuous. None of the changes have been that dramatic to me. ” It seems only natural that we finally find Earth playing with bowed instruments. Since Hex: Or Printing in the Infernal Method, the band has slowly evolved into a sprawling, landscape painting Post-Morricone behemoth of sorts. Earth is not a band of individual colors. They paint landscapes. Slowly changing scenery in a distant, pinhole world, or a twenty-foot mural – whichever you prefer. The colors stay relatively stagnant in their live set, moving gradually via Carlson, Davies and Baldoz, who set the foundation. Lori Goldston made the trees sway, she made the clouds change.
But like so many great band leaders, Carlson writes songs that often work better when the central figure is not that leader. Bill Frisell’s guitar work on “Engine of Ruin” (from Bees Made Honey) has to be one of the greatest recently recorded examples of taste. And like “Engine,” “Father Midnight” was not Carlson’s, it was Goldston’s. The sparse rhythm of its theme left open-space for Goldston to play. Her solo slowly built from the singing, middle register of her cello to the piercing harmonics and demonic growls she was extremely capable of producing. She never showed off. Her composure on stage was chill, if not completely expressionless. Her gray-black hair covered most of the facial expressions she might have made.
Angels of Darkness Demons of Light Pt. 2 is set for an October release, Carlson announced on stage. So I guess we’ll hear a studio version of “Multiplicity of Doors” sooner than I was expecting. Similar to Pt 1 in instrumentation, it was long. But almost startlingly different from their other work, there was an obvious bridge; a separate, altered-tempo section. It hit hard. But not as hard as the last song of the set, “Ouroboros is Broken.” It just plain rocked. The Sleep-shirted red-eyed “fuck-yeah” screaming fan sounded like he shit his pants. More like Boris than Morricone, the slow head banging had us all holding our caps. I took mine off. That new pinch-harmonic made us all grin with happiness. In Carlson’s words in reference to this song from the same interview quoted above: “if you speed it up it’s practically a Slayer riff.” Truth.
Carlson’s songs are approaching a style similar to collective composition. The centerpiece and self-titled track from Angels Pt 1, was the encore. Much more than any other song in the set, this was a group improvisation. (All songs on the new album are credited to both Carlson and Davies, save this behemoth, credited to all the members.) Easily the longest track on the album, it lasted a good twenty minutes live. Starting with Davies’ mallets, and Carlson’s twangy one-note vamping guitar line, each member slowly joined the crescendo. Goldston added her double-stopped drones and Baldoz repeated a knee-buckling bass line in counterpoint with the guitar. It all built to Carlson’s sparse melody, straddling the line between loose, free playing and in-time grooving. They were all gracefully united on stage.
To some, Earth is the definition of simple. Analytically, their songs aren’t much more than a slow riff repeated endlessly over a droned vamp. But calling their brand of simplicity “repetitive,” “simple” or even, well, “drone” seems belittling; these are the descriptors I would use to describe the opener O Paon (Geneviéve Castrée). For some reason, looped-guitars and/or looped-harmonies with sung vocals have recently setup shop in the acceptable/praisable realm of “popular” music criticism. I guess for O Paon, that’s a good thing. She sang wonderfully, I’ll give her that. Somewhere in there I could feel emotion, a little bit more than just 40 minutes of Alan Sparhwak-influenced guitar loops with five breaks scattered throughout. I guess it was minimal and dark and deep and stuff. O Paon is the definition of simple. And it’s not because she sang in French, or that she couldn’t really play her guitar. She just downright lacked surprise. From the moment I saw the Boss RC-20, it was over. But that’s just me.
Let’s get back on track. On paper, Dylan Carlson’s physical appearance embodies the stereotypes associated with drone-doom. He did have a demonically EPIC beard at this show, and of course, bands like SunnO))) have taken that image a little further, but the bottom-line is: we think Dylan Carlson is a hard dude. His picture in the jacket for Bees looks hard as fuck. But just like the volume levels I expected, I was wrong. Dylan Carlson shakes. Watching him plug in his pedals before the show made me nervous. Watching him pluck the old strings on his Fender Squire during his solos made me nervous. Hearing his “Thank You’s” after each song made me nervous. But for some bizarre reason, I never once doubted his musicianship or his technique, never once felt like they’d fall apart. That’s why Earth is above the predictable music of O Paon. Why the shaking made it that much more relatable. Dylan Carlson has created a place that controls him; a place where his nerves check and his playing just works. The slowlife-Dovzhenko-landscape that Earth inhabits revolves by itself; rejuvenates istelf; exists by itself. Once their show starts, wrong doesn’t really exist.
Ultimately, Earth’s world is a Utopia of sorts. How we lived when we didn’t have mindless shit to do. Before your bro’s iPad. Before music was free. Before everyone you know knew everything about everything you love. But like Dylan Carlson’s shaking fingers and frantic, squirrely voice, our lives are fast. We shake because our bosses, our friends, and our cars shake. Shit, our parents shook. We can only hope we find something that will slow us down. Wake us up. Calm us. Carlson’s found his “something.” So I guess, with lofty hopes that I can pull the degrees-of-separation card here, I found my slightly smaller “something.” I’m glad I was two-feet away from him.
Read the Interview referenced here: http://thronesanddominions.com/interview.htm