These Were The Earlies
In 1999, I thought we might have hit a watershed moment in indie rock. Former stoner loudness weirdy-beardies and one-hit-wonder textbook example Flaming Lips released The Soft Bulletin, fulfilling the promise of the Venn diagram intersection of college rock and trip-hop, proving that a definitive, non-disposable Bacharach meets Buzzcocks document could be created. The Soft Bulletin is the labum of the 90'd for me and I think its radiant rainbow unfortunately unleashed countless people's inner Brian Wilson, from Wilco to Radiohead to Brian Wilson himself, flooding the market with horn arrangements and stardust memories and a hunger for simpler things, thus engendering the second-rate punk that exists in supposed opposition to second-rate bloatedness. Its sad, because I am not categorically against bloatedness. I understand its good to be the King. I prefer ostentatious zillionaires like Paul Allen to dullard business tyrants like Jack Welch. I prefer the crazy blaoted Elvis shooting his TV to the wiggly younger one. The bearded hoary Lennon to the scrubbed one. But it takes the right personality to harness that bloatedness and make something magic out of it. Wayne Coyne had it on Soft Bulletin, but lost some footing on Yoshimi, burdening some otherwise great songs with a bunch of goo it didn't need. Sufjan Stevens definitely has it, and hopefully he doesn't drown in it as he makes his way across the map.
So maybe with the debut album by The Earlies, quizzically titled Those Were the Earlies, we have another contender. "In the Beginning" is a n echoed harmony-dripping, chime laden Beach Boys cream-dream that quickly fades into the mildest of organs and drum machines in the sublime "One of us is Dead"
I saw a boy's t-shirt today
It said one of us is dead
he just looked me in the eyes
Thus the comparisons to The Flaming Lips and their ornament encrusted philosophical homilies. But that's OK, because this is ghosty stuff that doesn't have the unflinching positivism that I love the Lips for, but a sadness about their search for light. A bona fide woodwind section bring "Wayward Song" into focus. You keep getting the feeling that its is going to build up into a tidal wave ala Polyphonic Spree or Godspeed You Black Emporer, but instead it continues to skim the lake. I particularly like the wavering drones that open the lovely jingle bell and more woodwinds instrumental "Slow Man's Dream" but then I'm into the drone thing lately. Nonetheless, its a lovely little chamber pop thingy that evokes falling snow, swingsets in the park, looking up at the sun - all the usual suspects.
These descriptions fit most of the record, which never really explodes from its shell, but make up for it by running each song through its variations and minute weather changes. One dip into menacing territory is the deceptively spooky "The Devil's Country" and the human, all too human piano ballad "Song For #3" is the slightly augmented kind of piece I want. Actually, the little tweaks and warbles are superfluous here, but they at least support this slight song. Its the kind of judgement call that is the dealmaker-or-breaker in this kind of stuff - knowing when enough is enough. The finale "Dead Birds" starts out as a piano piece like the aforementioned number, but ascends into a Full Orchestral Freakout right before it comes in for a final landing. Its graceful, beautiful stuff, and a welcome reassurance that there is still some good music being made among the electro-chamber-pop set.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com