Regular readers may have noticed that this is not a website that necessarily features every release by a band. This is because I try to cover as many bands as possible, and that means that I sometimes have to leave out albums by groups who I have previously covered, not because they are poor, rather that I struggle to find new things to say about them. There are few notable exceptions to this, which the ‘band cloud’ to the right of the screen will attest.
One such band is Earthling Society, who I first came across with their Riot Season release ‘England Have My Bones‘, and since then have come to appreciate as an act who are always willing and able to pull out a surprise or two with every album. This is because each release has a different feel to it, As a result following the band is never boring. More than that, its always fulfilling.
Part of this may be that the order of the records they release is not always the same as when the music is written, a good example of this being ‘Zen Bastard‘, released earlier this year on Drone Rock Records, which was a cracking re-imagining of earlier compositions.
Now comes a release that is something of a combination of the old and the new, again from Riot Season, which shows both how the band have developed their sound, and how Earthling Society founder Fred Laird has evolved his ideas over the last few years. It also showcases just how long this band have been going, long before the current interest in psych music had been re-kindled.
The album opens with a recently found track from 2009, ‘Can You Levitate?’, which is a real rocker of a number… as heavy and out there as anything the band have done in recent years. It is true that set against the rest of the album this track is much more raw, less subtle and nuanced, yet it has an immediacy to it that works well as an album opener and manages to set the rest of the album in context. One this you mustn’t do, though, is to hear this track and make your mind up about the album on that basis. Well this is an Earthling Society record, so you’re not going to do that anyway, and anyway all the tracks here are linked through Laird’s ongoing spiritual search… a key strand in the band’s output.
The other three tracks on the album make up a suite of music that have a real flow to them. Starting of with ‘Ascend To Godhead Part. 1’. A fantastically long and meandering track which you immediately get as having a strong Indian influence with the sound of a harmonium dominating the early part of the number before so hard guitar and jazz influences come in as the track settles into a rhythm around a tabla beat. But, as the track title suggests, this is not so much a song and a journey with different movements mapping out the spiritual path that is being enacted here. Hence, there is a mid-section that is slower and more considered, the chants and wisps of sound perhaps marking out an encounter with manifestations of the unknown. Either way it is beautiful and meditative, as the sitar sound dominates… The track the comes back to the tabla beat and to an end of sorts that is as mysterious as it began, although most definitely leaving the listener in a different place altogether… which is what ritual does.
In contrast to this contemplative track ‘Electric Bou Saada’ is a more upbeat, in many ways a jazz/ rock hybrid which could be horrific, although here it is handled very well. I would say that the basic structure of this track is a jazz one, the drumming really shaping and configuring the beat. Around that though there is real evidence of why, for a number of people I know, Laird is becoming one of the key guitarists in the psych genre…such that it is. The soaring work here, in some ways reminiscent of that which he performed on ‘Zen Bastard’; and certainly as I’ve witnessed in some recent live performances, suggest that he is growing in confidence and ability. Then ten minutes in the whole thing changes, as if some great revelation is encountered. Out goes the screaming chaos, in comes order and melody… this transformation is one of those that the band always seem to make work in a way that you would think would be incongruous, but weirdly isn’t. The other thing to say here is that while this track is very different to the two on either side of it is evidences how Earthling Society can keep a theme going through very different musical styles.
Which brings me to the track being premiered here, ‘Ascent to Godhead Part 2’. For a split second you think it’s going to be a reprise of ‘Part 1’ before the screaming brass and vocal smack in…an utter catharsis of Laird yelling ‘freedom’ over and over again. This feels like an purge, a release from the ties that bind… a letting go… an outpouring that is his own emotion and drama. It is only when the guitar kicks in at three minutes that you feel that there is any control to the track as the whole band freeform their way to an as yet unsure conclusion. It is usually the case that you’re not sure where Earthling Society tracks are going… in this case you feel as if you just need to cling to it and trust the outcome, which is what I suspect the band are doing as well. Gradually this trust is repaid with the sort of comedown that enables you, the listener, to begin to relax. This first time I heard this I felt my body loosening up in a way I rarely get with music… trust repaid.
As far as I’m concerned Earthling Society have done it again. Here is an album that manages to confound expectations, and deliver something that is significantly different from the previous release, exploring new and familiar musical areas and genre. Again it is the way that these influences are melded together that make the album special and while the inclusion of a track from eight years ago doesn’t fully cohere with the later work here it does provide evidence of a continuing path of consciousness by the Laird and in no way detracts from the new material. Rather it underlines the increasing maturity of the band’s output. With this album you get to rock out, think, wonder and experience; and that surely is the Earthling Society way.
‘Ascent to Godhead’ is released by Riot Season on 4th August, and available to pre-order shortly.