Over the past 15 months, a period which has seen the release of five vinyl-only EPs, more and more people have begun to talk about The Earlies. And so it is that their debut album, These Were The Earlies, is being released amid much anticipation.
Those already in on one of the music world’s best-kept secrets will recognise a number of the songs on the album from their previous miniature masterpieces. Now its time for the full-length extravaganza that pulls all of those tasters together into a whacking great three-course meal.
For those unfamiliar with the group, they are a four-piece made up of Giles Hatton, Christian Madden, John Mark Lapham and Brandon Carr – two hailing from Manchester and the other two from Texas. No, that wasn’t a typo, that’s Texas, USA. A quirky combination indeed, made even more interesting by the fact that the Anglo-American quartet only met each other at the end of last year. Before that they had recorded transatlantically, sending tapes to each other for an album which was four years in the making.
And there’s no easing us into things on this CD. Opening track In The Beginning may only be 30 seconds in length but is crammed full of more layered sounds than you can poke a stick at, ranging from bird noises to bells and random spoken words, all set-off by harmony vocals with the Beach Boys stamped all over them.
This is where the similarities with Brian Wilson‘s lot end though. The rest of the album has a sound far closer to that of Mercury Rev. Indeed you may well find yourself asking whether singer Brandon Carr is in fact Jonathan Donahue in disguise such is the striking similarity in their voices. The two bands also have many other aspects in common, such as ambitious orchestration and the use of all kinds of interesting instruments such as sawtooths, the euphonium and the Chinese puzzle bass!
Yet despite all of this These Were The Earlies isn’t simply a Deserter’s Songs for the new millennium, as it has The Earlies’ unique stamp all over it. The haunting One Of Us Is Dead serves as a great example, the way it seemingly takes you on an out of body experience, gradually building to a triumphant finale.
Third track Wayward Song will be one familiar with fans of the band, taken from the much-acclaimed EP4 of late 2003. The opening menagerie of woodwind sounds immediately catch your attention, which is then never lost throughout a song which takes you up with a dash of keyboard wizardry and then down again to its sorrowful ending.
It’s as if every song is a musical version of The Lord Of The Rings, such is the journey that each takes you on. This is one of those albums that no matter how many times you listen to it you will hear something new. It is not perfect though. Be it your first listen or your hundredth, The Devil’s Country remains hard work to get through without your hand lingering over the skip button through fear of a psychedelic overdose totally unassisted by mind-altering substances.
Pulling it off on ten out of the album’s 11 songs certainly isn’t a bad first effort though and triumphant tunes like the synthesiser heavy Morning Wonder, the beautiful Song For #3, and the spectacular firework display that is final track Dead Birds make you feel glad to be alive.
It all goes to show that when Brits and Americans work together they can get it right sometimes.