I first came across Earthling Society in 2014 when I bought the ‘England Have My Bones’ album on the recommendation of a friend. I remember not really knowing what to think when I first heard it, which was also the first of many bought from the marvellous Riot Season label (who are also releasing this one). At the time I was a relative newcomer to a great deal of psychedelic music, and so many of the influences on that album may have been lost on me. That was then and this is now and I have learned a great deal over the ensuing four years, and one of my principal teachers over this time has been Fred Laird through his band Earthling Society. About a year back I did a playlist of the bands that inspire me to write and Earthling Society was definitely on that list.
The main reason for this, I think, is that every Earthling Society album is different. It has it’s own atmosphere, but it also has a real depth to it. There is clearly a great deal of thought goes on behind each release, but also played with great care and attention to detail. As a result if you know where to look you can hear the musical influences on each track, and you can also hear the philosophical influences too. And it is that latter point that has also drawn me to Earthling Society over the years.
Something I try not to talk about too much, but seems valid here, is that I used to teach Eastern religions and philosophies at the University of Leeds in what now feels like a previous life. However, much of the Earthling Society output brings me back to that and Laird’s obvious interest in this has provided me with a clear link. This goes back to the idea of depth and atmosphere that each album has… it takes you with it into somewhere entirely different, and every album is a distinct trip into the unknown.
So having said all that, it was with mixed feelings that I learned this week that the album featured here will be the last by Earthling Society. Mixed feelings because I would have happily continued to listen to and absorb another twenty of these, yet I also think that it is great when musicians know their own mind and bring a project to an end at a time that is right for them.
For me this final album is yet another significant contribution to the band’s oeuvre, and to psychedelic music. As the Press Release explains there is, of course there is, a concept behind the album:
Mo – The Demon was recorded at Leeds College of Music between November 2017 and February 2018. The basis of the album was to record an imaginary soundtrack to the Shaw Brothers batshit psychedicrazy Kung Fu horror ‘The Boxer’s Omen’ aka MO or demon.
Normally, at this point I would launch into a detailed description of the album and what listening to it means to me, but I am very pleased to say that Fred has written a ‘track by track’ explanation of the album and how it came about… so on this occasion I’m going to put my feet up and just listen while he explains it all.
Theme From MO-The Demon
The song originally sounded like an Early Neil Young kind of desert rock song. It was all hanging minor chords like something from ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’. At the time there was no movie concept just a bunch of songs to record as part of my son Harry’s degree at Leeds College Of Music. I was listening to a lot of jazz funk fusion such as Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock. I started rewriting the chords into a more suspended jazz thing and then the chorus riff came together which sounded quite Bowie-esque. The verse riff came together in the studio. It’s like a spy theme, very noir. The guitars that come crashing in halfway are more towards the earlier idea of the song as a Crazy Horse desert rock thing.
The Miles Davis funkathon to the fore. This was the song when we realised we had written a 70’s or 80’s movie score. My son and I was playing the mix back at his house in Hyde Park when it dawned on us. I’d been actually toying with doing an imaginary soundtrack to ‘Boxer’s Omen’ and without realising we had actually conceived it!! So this is the scene of the Thai Boxing match. Once we started naming the songs they seemed to fit into key parts of the film. So…
Inauguration of the Buddha Dome
Is the transformation of the hero into a kind of super magical Buddhist monk. It’s got lots of delayed guitars feeding back and repeating themselves over a hypnotic drum pattern. One guitar sounds like the groaning of some alien thing. There’s Tibetan bells being whacked too. Quite intense. A bit Amon Duul maybe?
Mountains of Bliss
Mountains of Bliss is the scene where he ventures into Nepal. Again a kind of Miles Davis ‘In a silent way’ feel to the track. The guitar solo was completely improvised and we used the second take. I played through a Valve Fender Hot Rod Deluxe. It’s a beautiful sound. The sustain is amazing. Very Santana in it’s feel.
Super Holy Monk Defeats The Black Magic Muthafucker
This is the climax of the movie where the transformed monk defeats the evil magician. Pretty much what the title suggests really so no need to elaborate on that one. Again the guitar solo was improvised. I wanted to create a sound similar to Hideki Ishima but also have that Eddie Hazel thing he has going on Maggot Brain where the guitar gets that overloaded it starts to crumble the notes. The end became this intense delayed feedback that just got louder and louder until the noise travelled out of the sound booth, crept down the corridor and immersed the receptionists. You could hear it in the lobby!!
So that was side 1 done in November and we had another side to do in February. Again we went back to Leeds College of Music and recorded the following tracks.
The track was meant to be a kind of cool Velvets meets Doctors Of Madness Ballad that morphed into a full on space rock monster. It just didn’t work. I hated the vocals I did and I thought the overall take was pretty naff including my own playing. The space rock bit in the middle was the only thing salvageable. When I returned home I recorded the intro again with just two arpeggio-ed guitars and mellotron. I ran it through a Harmonizer (as used by Tony Visconti on Low and Heroes) and this whole wonderful soundscape was created, turning the guitars into some kind of liquefied synth.
I had seen Tirikilatops the previous August opening for Makoto and Pickaychu In Preston and was quite captivated by them. I thought an ethereal female vocal would by quite fitting and that Bomi would be perfect to sing on it in Korean. They are based in Blackpool just down the road from us and all came together. It’s a magickal recording.
Well its actually Jetavana Grove but my edition of Siddartha by Herman Hesse has an incorrect spelling of it. Must be a cheap copy! Anyway it just stuck as Jetavina. I was listening to a lot of John Fahey and was using one of his tunings. Again this was recorded in full at Leeds but the first part again just didn’t work for me. So I re-recorded the beginning at home. I like the way you have this kind of Lo-Fi field recording that crashes into this psych raga monster; it has great impact. The intro reminds me of Satanic Majesties and the second half a bit Screaming Trees circa ‘Dust’. I love this song and thought it was the perfect goodbye from the band. It has all the elements of the band distilled into 9 minutes.
[Back to me again]
I found this last sentence was very interesting because I thought the whole album was somehow a fitting swan song for the band because it does take the listener through may different stages and experiences during the course of the set. In this sense I imagine that setting the record out as a soundtrack enabled the band to hang the music on an external narrative that meant that they had more of a freedom to take the sound into different places.
I do get to exercise my ‘reviewing muscles’ a bit though, because some editions of this album also came with a CD-R, ‘Transient Head EP’ by Morphic Resident (aka Fred Laird). A title which suggests to me this may be where Laird may be headed next.
If this is the case it is into some very interesting territory indeed with something that is something that is still intensely psychedelic, yet also represents something of a departure from the Earthling Society. “Clocks Strike Thirteen’ in a sense eases us into this, with dub elements that are reminiscent of some of there ‘Zen Bastard’ album in particular. I found this to be a really intense piece that somehow puts the dub before the guitar in a way that I don’t think I’ve heard before from Laird.
After that ‘U-Know-Y’ is perhaps more reggae than dub in its approach, although that is only one element in what feels like quite a complex experimental piece. This, I would say, is definitely the work of a ‘transient head’, mainly because I know what that head is and where it is at. That is to say that this does not feel like a throwaway track but, like the others here, one that I will listen to every bit as much a the album itself, this is not ‘MO – The Demo’.
As the title suggests ‘Free Fall – No Deal Dub’ is in a similar vein but, again, is no straight dub track with lots of invention in there, the variations around the fat bass being never short of interesting and accomplished. But it is the final track ‘Bomi Runs The Demon Down – Cherry Blossom Saturday’ which particularly piqued my interest. By the title I took this to be in someway part of the ‘MO – The Demon’ soundtrack, and after a crazy freaked out start this settles into a beautiful lilting track that has me imagining that I’m riding on one of Hokusai’s waves. There’s a gentleness there but also a sense of the storm threatening to engulf us, it’s only around five minutes long but I could listen to that melody all day.
This then is the end of Earthling Society… a fitting end in many ways of a journey which also seems to contain many of the elements of that Hokusai painting. There is a sense of otherness, the calm of part of the sea, and yet other elements bring storms and have a turbulent feel to them. But what I have always found about this picture is that you can never look at it and see the same thing twice… particularly if you stare deeply into it; and this is what listening to an Earthling Society album has always been for me; and ‘MO – The Demon’ is no different.
I could go on but I will stop there and leave the last words to Fred himself:
Well its been 14 years and some of it has been extremely frustrating. I’m surprised we lasted this long!! I just thought it was time to move on. We have gone through numerous changes over the years and finally by 2012 settled on the definitive line-up. However, it’s become a tiresome beast and when I finished ‘MO – The Demon’ I knew there was nowhere else to go with the band. We have tried to keep it unique and original and I think we have somewhat succeeded; although that has been quite detrimental to us as some people just didn’t get it. A curates egg perhaps? We were a true psychedelic band when others were the 1910 Fruitgum Company!!!!
Zodiak, England Have My Bones, Zen Bastard, Ascent To Godhead and Mo-The Demon. I think we have left behind some pretty cool albums. I’m proud of them….
‘MO – The Demon’ is released by Riot Season Records.
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