For Those Who Have a Problem With ‘World Music’ We Salute You
Earthling Society is a 21st century guitar/bass/drums trio from Blackpool, in the north-west of England, that multi-tracks itself in such a manner that its debut album ALBION comes on more like your typical Krautrock commune ensemble (Amon Duul 2, Agitation Free especially) than the Blue Cheer, Grand Funk and High Rise heart attack than the power trio line-up would suggest. Indeed, concerning this Earthling Society, imagine even a ‘60s San Francisco septet/octet (50 Foot Hose or the second album augmented Chocolate Watchband comes most immediately to mind), the kind in which at least half the members are fiddling with unidentifiable Buchla-type analogue synthesizers and weird Harry Partch percussion, whilst (sure enough) the other half have their eyes closed and are deluding themselves that it’s all the natural successor to the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Earthling Society is, in other words, pretty damn cool.
Guitarist Fred Laird controls the proceedings with a beautifully distinctive and highly mournful northern lead vocal style reminiscent of Jim Milne from Tractor and Lindisfarne’s Alan Hull. His highly English lyrical muse is somewhat akin to William Blake, though refracted through the cracked windscreen of a Commer Dormobile laid waste by police during the Battle of the Beanfield. In his songs, Laird calls himself a “self-loathing motherfucking bore” for worrying that the role he “must play is just slipping away”. But the spectre of England’s landscape Goddess is so powerful in Laird’s lyrics that he seems always destined to be gloriously redeemed as “she comes to free me from shackles and irons of despair”. Moreover, Fred Laird’s willingness to cast himself in his own songs in his real-life role of father and husband suggests this is one confident motherfucker, especially as the music is so timelessly edge-y. Accompanied by Jon Blacow’s dubby and stickily implosive drums, and all melded together by either a bass guitar or bass synth from the be-shaded longhair David Fyall, Earthling Society makes what must - by this part of the early 21st century - be described as ‘traditional’ underground music shot through with a genuinely psilocybin novelty made by peaceniks of the ecstatic refusenik variety. Like Comets on Fire, Six Organs of Admittance, Primordial Undermind at their best, and anything involving Plastic Crimewave, Earthling Society’s success is because of the confidence with which its musicians deal in several time-honoured rock clichés simultaneously. But, like some psychedelicized bureau de change, the music of Earthling Society always keeps the lira separate from the francs and yen, and in so doing keeps a sharp edge to every riff and tune and rhythm, rather than mixing up all the small change into that dreaded catch-all known as World Music. Think of Earthling Society as a more obvious and de-tuned version of Traffic’s “40,000 Headmen”, Amon Duul 2’s “Sandoz in the Rain”, most anything from Brainticket’s PSYCHONAUT or big ensemble pieces from The Chocolate Watchband’s THE INNER MYSTIQUE. Think even of bits of The Red Crayola’s marvelously disorientating PARABLE OF ARABLE LAND, and yooz almost there. Indeed, Earthling Society have on ALBION created a muscular summum bonum of all things mysterious without resorting to spewing out cod-Hindi mantras or the sub-sub-Hawkwindisms of most festival bands.
Ah, but there’s the rub… for this Earthling Society’s trio designation is nobbut a cunning smokescreen. The term ‘trio’ in rock’n’roll always implies power trio, and this lot are nothing of the sort1. Y’see, the basic recordings having been achieved, Messrs Laird, Fyall and Blackow then each layer on more tracks of percussion and disembodied voices, with Laird adding a final paste of piano and occasional flourishes of truly delightful Colin Goldring-style recorder that easily passes for flute. And so it is that the overall FX of these multiple overdubs are most reminiscent of those euphoric results created by the aforementioned Jim Milne’s Tractor duo (recorded in the early 1970s for John Peel’s Dandelion label: see Album of the Month November 2004CE); that or maybe an even more sweaty and cardiovascular (and equally Anglo-Viking) This Heat. Indeed, ALBION sounds like all my favourite music without the kack bits that annoy me. And it’s current, too. And I dig it especially because it’s psychedelic rather than just psychedelically styled2, that is: it’s disorientating and mind manifestingly fertile and it constantly sends listeners outside of time to dwell on the edge of their minds. You try to grasp a hold of it but you can’t because it never stays in the same place long enough. Like Dennis Bovell’s perpetually rolling mix on The Pop Group’s first album Y, ALBION is always on the edge of becoming…
My Children, My Woman, My Faith
Judging ALBION on a song-by-song basis is somewhat inappropriate, as it all segues together to create a cohesive whole. However, for those who are reading this review long after the audio streaming has been taken down, I feel it’s important to at least attempt an itemized description of the tunes contained herein.
The record commences with the headlong hollow-drummed percussion rush of “Black Witch”, a riot of Pete De Freitas drums if that brother were playing The Electric Prunes’ massive “Hideaway”. Chordless guitar notes burn and shatter as the sparks fly upwards, a musical key coagulates out of the ether and Fred Laird sings disembodied lyrics through what appears to be a ring modulated harmonium like that Cher song that robotized her. Here, however, it sounds like Laird’s smitten with the same dark lady that Uli John Roth had issues with, and she’s a Freya Doll up for friggin’ in the rigging:
“I got a witch, she won’t keep still,
A marionette on a freakshow bill,
But she can ride like no girl will…”
Guide me to her, brother; I gots to meet this enchantress. Then what sounds like a Hitlerian night rally leads us into the superb GET CARTER-esque themes of “Heart of Glass”. Formerly entitled “Uran Krystall”, more disembodied voices inform this so-called instrumental, which hangs in the air and threatens to ascend but never truly ignites. Onwards to the superb title track, whose gloriously drunken 6/8 clatterbeats and seemingly ever-descending chords evoke the Wodenist soul of Northern England like no-one else does, spunking cosmic cum across the canopy of the earth. Imagine those brief blissful moments of High Tide when Tony Hill’s transcendental guitar and Dreaken Theaker’s intoxicated splatter drums collide, and you’re somewhere close to the timeless beauty of this song. Side One closes with the near seven-minute Krautrock/W. Coast-styled groove instrumental “Outsideofintime”, whose hothouse gardens atmosphere could be another quarter of an hour in length for my tastes. But this first side of music is really one seamless bliss-out, whose song titles are no more useful than signposts along the North Walean section of the Watling Street.
The acoustic “Beltane Queen” that opens side two again conjures that same disembodied folk music that the Tractor duo did so well. Imagine the most bucolic parts of Traffic’s JOHN BARLEYCORN MUST DIE as played by the Syd Barrett Floyd at its most blissed out – a place where the ska-styled ‘ch-ch’ vocal rhythms equal billing with the drums and bass a la Roxy Music’s “The Bogus Man”. Starting with an off-the-shelf downpour, “When It All Comes Down” is an atonal Kraut-skank that hinges on the time-honoured rock’n’roll lyrical call to arms “Can You Feel it?” Funky and un-finished sounding, this skeletal groove threatens to come to pieces at any time, and is all the more charming for it, especially as most of the instrumental parts are only implied and, even then, undermined by off kilter sound FX. ALBION concludes with a delightful 14-minutes long groove piece entitled “Universal Mainline”, another of Earthling Society’s skeletal and hugely understated themes that begins as a bizarre hybrid of English finger-in-the-ear folk music and short wave transistor music concrete, before developing into a magnificently loping and dyslexic anthem, again something like early Roxy Music at their most Krautrock informed. Herein is Earthling’s greatest strength, for when they bring the bass and drums way to the fore, all those elements that would normally play the pivotal role become implied or hidden on the near horizon, propelled emotionally by the band’s clever use of pretty but unreachable voices that we know (but only from the supplied lyric sheet) are singing:
“Ride the universal mainline,
Ride the universal mainline,
Ride the universal mainline,
Ride the universal mainline.”
And so this album reaches its most beautiful moments on that long closing fade, sounding like several oft-heard yet still ungraspable sounds from the psychedelic past, played all at once. And so it would seem, especially in this early 21st century, that truly psychedelic music can still succeed by dealing in certain overt clichés, so long as their context is appropriate (or, more likely, inappropriate). I suppose this is because subverting the cliché, can only work after the artist has first accepted the cliché, which is after all the unit of currency that the human mind mostly deals in. And if Earthling Society gets itself on a roll, we could be in for a series of low-key underground classics from them… Blackpool Illumination? Bring it on!!!
Earthling Society are the UK's leading Pagan psychedelic / Krautrock band.
Formed in the
North West Of England in 2005, E-Society have released 6 acclaimed albums in as many years and have been championed by the likes of Julian Cope & Stuart Maconie as well as playing alongside such great acts as Damo Suzuki, The Groundhogs, Hawkwind, & Leafhound,...more