These Were The Earlies
he Earlies, half from Texas, half from Manchester, couldn’t have existed earlier. Their digital pastoral psychedelia rises in equal parts from America’s recent history of expansive, whimsical alt.rock (Mercury Rev, Flaming Lips, Yo La Tengo) and the laptronic melodies and textures of the likes of Four Tet, Mum and Manitoba, resulting in a set of saccharine sweet songs which occasionally dissolve spectacularly in a haze of whirring electronic mist.
The four main members of the band are bolstered by an array of other passers by and ne’er-do-wells who add an extraordinary array of instrumental colour to These Were…, with piano, clarinet, euphonium, Chinese puzzle bass, melodica, flute, bassoon, sawtooths and brass (and more!) all combining with gentle guitars, drums (both real and programmed) and an array of electronics and keys to create a beguiling and distracting array of tones and timbres. If Brian Wilson were a young man today instead of a geriatric wreck you could imagine him being fascinated with the studio-based possibilities of such sonic combinations. Indeed, the harmonies that open the album on “In The Beginning…” owe a debt to The Beach Boys, and Wilson’s near-ghost hovers over proceedings like a computer program convinced it has a soul.
Thematically much of These Were… deals with death, rebirth, remembrance and returning home. The ghost-horn groove of “One of Us is Dead” gets all metaphysical and Sixth Sense on us, the altered brass parps falling in line not like a dream whilst sleeping but like a dream whilst dead, if one can imagine such a thing. “Wayward Song” (expunging electrical interference beautifully at the four minute mark) lays out the death-complex explicitly, not fear of but hope past—“In this life / We love who we can / Then they’re gone / But what will be / And what has been / Will be again” conjuring images not just of cyclical histories and reincarnations but individual victories as the bereaved learn to live beyond and after tragedy.
Elsewhere “Slow Man’s Dream” wanders into instrumental territory not a million miles away from Spiritualized’s wonderful “Feel So Sad”, and in fact many of the best moments on These Were… echo Jason Pierce rather than Brian Wilson or Jonathan Donahue, particularly the crashing, semi-jazz explosions of closing track “Dead Birds”, while “Bring It Back Again” could almost be lifted from Manitoba’s still glorious Up In Flames. Current single “The Devil’s Country” could be the theme tune for the death of an imaginary robot boxer made of rusted steel and handfuls of frayed and ancient electronics, while the country-glitch “Morning Wonder”, blessed with a thrilling, burbling electronic climax, calls out for Mother Mary to spirit us home, a request which is repeated throughout the LP, and which signifies a deep set desire within the record for comfort and safety. Which is odd when one considers that The Earlies began making music together by posting fragments across the Atlantic, suggesting that the record, if not the actual band members and associates, does not have a defined geographical home.
One could witheringly put down The Earlies as nothing more than an imagined remix of Yo La Tengo by a middling roster Warp technician, or write off Brandon Carr’s asthmatic vocals, which necessitate short, nursery-rhyme like melodies simply because he’s incapable of holding a note or line or phrase for any longer. Exactly the same happens with Mercury Rev and The Flaming Lips, and the result can easily stray into childlike gasping and wheezing, but to see the limits of The Earlies is to miss the point, which is found in beatifically simple piano lines and warmly delivered alien platitudes. These Were… is an undeniably lovely daydream of a record.
Reviewed by: Nick Southall
Reviewed on: 2004-07-22