Stripping away the superfluous excesses of music, (overly busy drums, bass work that never finds a solid groove, guitar licks just overburdened with too many notes), leaves one with the bare bones, a skeletal framework if you will, in which there is ample space to explore tone, harmonic textures and slowly expressed melodic forms. This is something Dylan Carlson and the bevy of musicians involved (albeit a revolving roster) with Earth have known for years, and they continue to demonstrate that knowledge on Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1.
And, of course, Earth does it like no other. With Adrienne Davies holding down the percussive end, Karl Blau handling the low-end duties, and Lori Goldston lending an atmospheric depth with her gorgeously haunting cello work, the stage is set for Carlson’s signature guitar sound to shine and shimmer through, riding waves of reverb, tremolo, and delay. I’m not implying that the guitar overpowers the other instruments, each individual instrument lends it’s part to the whole of the compositions, imparting a unique take on Americana. Though throughout Earth’s lifespan some the most notable features of the music have been the tone of, and the melodies presented by Carlson on guitar, this album (as well as the two previous) find him taking a more reserved approach; allowing the other participants to fill space where he previously would occupy it with crushing waves of distortion drenched with other effects. By no means did that negatively affect the body of work that such an angle was taken upon, it was just a stop along the sonic journey that represented the early bulk of Earth’s catalog, and was one of the aspects that originally drew me to this band. However, it has been incredible to witness the evolution in sound and approach from where Earth began, to where the band is now.
But, let us not neglect the vital elements of Earth that are the low-end bass drone (handled on the album by Karl Blau, but for upcoming live dates by Seattle performance artist Angelina Baldoz) and down-tempo percussion work, especially that of long-time member Adrienne Davies. She creates a sense of space that is vital to this type of instrumental work. With slow, dirging tempos yet precise, deliberate percussive events, Davies lays the groundwork beautifully and skillfully for Blau to build upon with droning yet melodic low-end richness. Enter the haunting and enveloping strains of cello brought into being by Lori Goldston. The aspect she brings to Earth’s music shifts their sound from merely lush, textured soundscapes, equally bathed in the brightest light whilst mired in the murkiest dark, to the point of being something achingly beautiful.
Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1 contains some of the finest work Earth has produced to date. There are pieces of the past, not just Earth’s, but influences cited by the band at this point include Pentangle, Fairport Convention (folk-rockers who had their heyday most notably in the 60’s and 70’s), and modern day groups such as Tuareg roots-blues group Tinariwen. But the reinvention and expansion of old, and the introduction of some new ideas on this album is refreshing and engaging and presents the listener with a wholly visceral experience. I’ve listened to this album dozens of times since getting it, and haven’t gotten tired of listening to it in any way. Something that I hadn’t noticed before hits me every time I put it on, and it’s still giving me chills.