Friday, February 10, 2012


Earth - Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II
Southern Lord, 2012

Pitchfork has Earth's new album, Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light IIstreaming right now. Go check it out if you haven't listened to it yet! A "sequel" of sorts to their excellent 2011 album Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I (which only missed appearing on my Best of 2011 list because I forgot it came out last year--I kept thinking it was a late 2010 release), the music for this album was recorded at the same sessions as the first installment and continues Earth's evolution into something more than the house band to a Cormac McCarthy novel. Of course, they are excellent at exactly the kind of scorched-desert-and-violence vibe of McCarthy's work, as evidenced by Hex; Or Printing in the Infernal Method (supposedly influenced by Blood Meridian), Hibernaculum, and--to a lesser extent--The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull. Nevertheless, for a band with music as impressionistic and evocative as Earth, a change of scenery is a necessity. The Demons of Light albums offer just that--though the scenery is perhaps not a world away from where they've been. The second installment also joins the first one as having one of the best album covers in recent memory:

Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I

At this point Earth's music is so recognizably their own that it seems almost impossible for there to be any sense of surprise when listening, but Dylan Carlson's guitar playing continues to develop in terms of nuance and subtlety and the band's interplay becomes increasingly free and tight as the years go on. In a recent interview with Fact, Carlson talked about the progression from Demons of Light I to Demons of Light II, talking about an:
arc . . . from composed songs like "Old Black" and "Father Midnight" through to completely free [improvisations] like "Angles of Darkness, Demons of Light I"--the second album is a continuation of that title track in that it's all improvised. Also, the looser tracks remind me of Pentangle who had the folk chops combined with the jazz chops of the rhythm section. The whole project has this arc of composed to free; American forms to British forms, and then ends on a wildcard, "Rakehell."
Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II is every bit as strong as its predecessor, but while the basic formula for an Earth song hasn't changed here--repetition, impossibly slow tempos, and blues and country riffs expanded and mutated into something else entirely are still the name of the game--the execution has advanced to a new level on the Demons of Light albums, which Carlson calls "an interesting and ongoing quest of sorts." Lori Goldston's cello continues to add an intriguing dimension to the band's sound and serves as an able foil for Carlson's guitar even in its quieter moments. Also, Adrienne Davies drum performance throughout Demons of Light II is a marvel of subtle propulsion and heft, pushing the songs on even as the melody lines spiral out into increasingly abstract shapes. In a song like "The Corascene Dog," Davies doesn't appear to be doing anything, really, but that repeated fill and the shimmer of her cymbals makes sure that even as Carlson ties the chord progression in knots, the track never stops going. Just as vitally, on something like "A Multiplicity of Doors," it's Davies who makes sure that the band hits every one of those crests. Perhaps surprisingly given its improvised nature, everything here has a sense of not just travel, but arrival: at the end of a song some destination has been reached, some void has been crossed. Earth is forceful, purposeful, and at the height of their powers. Though Fairport Convention and Pentangle have been referenced by Carlson as influences on Earth's current sound, I think Lark's Tongue in Aspic/Starless and Bible Black era King Crimson is another apt touchstone (one Carlson confirms here).

What's especially impressive is just how much light is present in Earth's sound these days. They've always been able to conjure up angels of darkness, but they seem just as apt to give the demons of light a turn this time round. Carlson's guitar practically sparkles on drumless opener "Sigil of Brass," miles away from the crush of something like "Seven Angels" from 1993's Earth 2, and when "His Teeth Did Brightly Shine" launches in with a classically Earth guitar line, it's palpably redemptive and stirring (and as pretty as "Miami Morning Coming Down II (Shine)"). Davies, in that interview with Fact, mentions that "Hex seemed to be created by almost 'impersonal' and 'external' forces, each album since then has felt progressively more intimate and personal," and I find this matches the distinct shift I've noticed from something like "The Dry Lake" to the Demons of Light albums. The band sounds like they are in the room with you--the production on their albums since their return has been uniformly fantastic--but the shadings, the lights and shadows, of their songs are more vivid than usual here.

It's been a little over a half-decade since Earth reappeared from almost a decade of silence. With a fan-funded Carlson solo album supposedly in the works and Earth operating increasingly as a collective, it will be fascinating to see where they head. I have to wonder how many miles are left in their current direction--when you've mastered playing slow, where do you go next?--although the move to improvisation seems promising. In the Fact interview, Carlson admits that he "do[es]n't know what exactly will inspire the next Earth album." I hope that that means we're in for another reinvention, even if it's not as radical as the one started on Hex. Given their track record, though, it's hard not to believe wherever they end up will be worth hearing.

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