Thursday, December 20, 2012
ALBUMS OF THE YEAR: #10 EARTH - ANGELS OF DARKNESS, DEMONS OF LIGHT II
Last year, I overlooked the first part of this when compiling my end of year lists because I forgot that it came out in 2011. This is only partly an attempt to correct that oversight. Since reemerging with 2005's Hex: Or Printing in the Infernal Method, Earth have been one of the more interesting bands going. Channeling his proclivity for feedback, drones, and bass into new musical avenues--country, blues, psychedelic rock, free jazz--Dylan Carlson has come a long way from Sunn Amps and Smashed Guitars. The culmination of the wandering, patient experimentation that's defined the band's past decade of work, Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II deepens the slower-than-slow improvising of the previous installment by lightening up: this is probably the brightest music Carlson's been associated with (though the droning cello throughout keeps anything from threatening to get too major key). Carlson's guitar is mixed way up front, and his playing deserves careful study--if a generation of metalheads could get hip to this rather than generic shredding, the genre would certainly be headed in an interesting direction. For all of Carlson's contemplative playing, an approach that leaves no melodic permutation untested, no variation on a chord unplayed, Adrienne Davies and her drums are a subtly powerful force, providing crucial momentum to music that threatens to stop entirely at any moment, while Lori Goldston and Karl Blau tangle their cello and bass, respectively, around the shapes Carlson's guitar lines make.
As a guitar player (and one who grew up reading the kinds of guitar magazines that put people like Kirk Hammett on the cover), I've found Carlson's growth and development as a player over the last decade or so incredibly interesting, and I have to bring my appreciation of this album back to his work on it. Mostly, it's because I haven't found much guitar playing that excites me over the past few years. Earth, though, is one of the few bands that continues to produce music that interests me in the guitar and its possibilities as an instrument. Carlson's playing is wonderfully business casual throughout: sharp enough to hit a million subtle accents when called for, but otherwise in no rush to be in any particular place or to do any particular thing beyond taking chords and melodies apart and stretching them a mile wide. The Angels of Darkness releases have been particularly impressive because I tend to think of improvised music as challenging (even alienating) in its foregrounding of abrasion and dissonance. Thus, something like Fenn O'Berg or Charalambides can be immensely rewarding, but the music demands concentration; whatever enjoyment you are getting out of the music, you've invested a certain amount of patience and attention to find it. Earth's music on these two albums, and particularly Angels of Darkness II, is not like that. Challenging, yes--and often more so than its near static surface would suggest--but rarely abrasive. This is warm, inviting music, and if it asks for patience, it rewards that patience with slow-motion crescendos that are undeniable and hypnotically enchanting melodies. If you thought the world was ending Friday, you could do worse for a soundtrack.