If a year is a long time in football then what is a decade in pop music? One the on hand it is a dangerous length of time for a band to spend between albums, but if you’re The Early Years, you can say that on the other hand your members have been kept busy.
Their valid excuse is that age old favourite reason for splitting up, ‘musical differences’. Here however the differences have been harnessed in a wholly positive way, members of the band effectively loaning themselves out until ready to make a second collective statement. Think of a more coherent Chelsea squad in five years’ time and you get the drift.
As if to prove it isn’t a big deal, the band return with a subtle album title (simply, II), dressed in sparse black, white and grey artwork. They have a new home to suit their sound, too, Sonic Cathedral providing a base for what seems to have been a recent period of rich invention.
Their reverb-drenched grooves and rich sonic textures are fully indulged here, though that’s not to say there is no songwriting craft or structure involved, for the vocals are one of the band’s strongest elements. David Malkinson may be in thrall to Ian McCulloch and Julian Cope at times but he harnesses these influences with originality of his own. There is a softer side too, the rather lovely “Hush, my baby don’t you cry” turning Hush into a gorgeous song, originally a lullaby for an unborn child but given a substantial boost by multilayered vocals and honeyed keyboards.
It is in the production that this album really excels. The twinkling stars that rain down on For The Fallen are especially effective, very Doors-ian but putting a sparkle on music that already seems to have all the pedals to the floor. The wide range of widescreen sounds is always well marshalled by Jason Kingsland of Deerhunter, responsible for the mixing, and engineer Frank Arkwright, who has previous with Mogwai and New Order. If anything it is Joy Division or, once again, the Bunnymen, who come to mind in some of the gloomier soundscapes. On Do It (Again) the band’s love of Krautrock comes to the fore, with a dreamy set of melodic loops, a classic bass drum-driven beat, a catchy vocal – and then the coup de grace of a thrilling, ear-shredding guitar solo.
A sense of meditative peace falls over Fluxus, which sits rooted in the same harmonic place but shimmers around the “I hear everything in my heart” chant, suggesting The Early Years have for now resolved their musical opinions – or at least found a way to incorporate all points of view. That much is clear by the inclusion of the more obviously electronic Clone Theory, a more percussive track, or Hall Of Mirrors, with dreamy synth musings. The opening Nocturne brings everything together, starting with percussive basics but building up the layers to an all-enveloping sound.
Happily The Early Years’ renaissance has been well worth the wait, their second coming blossoming through music that frequently dazzles. Just don’t leave it so long next time, eh lads?