Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Earth—Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1 (Southern Lord)

The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull (2008) was a shimmering, hypnotic set based around precision and repetition. Angels of Darkness… showcases a more relaxed approach, as though the band visited Neil Young’s Ragged Glory barn and took some pointers from Crazy Horse. (I often wonder if Neil Young has ever heard Earth, given his history of work in bleak guitar landscapes, from the Dead Man soundtrack to Le Noise.) If The Bees Made Honey… struck you as regimented, the untamed swirling of sounds here will be a pleasant surprise. It’s another refinement to the basic approach Dylan Carlson has taken since Hex; Or Printing in the Infernal Method—striving for a state of grace through repetition, deliberation, and space. Don’t call it drone. “Old Black” demonstrates the impact of small gestures in this environment. In the first half of the song, Carlson unspools a lengthy, slowly developing riff, punctuating each turnaround with a slight tug on the whammy bar. That minor quaver is enough to stir the soul. When the closing riff emerges, he steps on a wah pedal and everything liquefies. Superb. “Father Midnight” is mainly carried by bass and drums, as Carlson steps back and improvises around the slo-mo groove. Lori Goldston’s cello scuttles and churns underneath. “Descent into the Zenith” sounds like a sunrise, with a mood that fits Carlson’s “Miami Morning Coming Down” series. Only “Hell’s Winter” feels too typically Earth; overfamiliar and overlong. With a vision so strong, and a band so consistent—the same four players appear on all the tracks, and there are no guest musicians—the music pours freely on the title track’s 20 minutes of lolling oceanic improvisation, like an accompaniment to a humpback ballet. This is Earth untethered, gliding through air and water rather than scrabbling through scrub-brush. Angels are at play, yes, but so are demons, exerting gravity via the low notes at the end of a riff, or a downcast chord progression, or Adrienne Davies’ steadfast downbeat. It feels good to be caught amidst this quiet struggle. Let it play and hear it glow.

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