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Early Day Miners - The Sonograph EP

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Artist: Early Day Miners

Album: The Sonograph EP

Label: Acuarela

Review date: Mar. 18, 2004

The work on The Sonograph EP settles in nicely with the rest of the Early Day Miners’ catalog – no changes of direction here – but it also has an insubstantial, dashed-off quality about it, making the six songs here the sort of experimental recordings routinely left off of full-length albums and of interest primarily to those who already feel that they have something invested in the band. Given it’s short running time, released within a calendar year of their previous full-length album (last year’s Jefferson at Rest, on which the Early Day Miners moved away from the country slowcore for which they are known) and released on a European label with limited distribution here in the United States, I am guessing that The Sonograph EP was compiled without lead songwriter Daniel Burton or any of his bandmates feeling pressured to release their most exciting work. Which is not in any way to diminish what’s released on the EP; it’s merely to note that its virtues stem from digging deeper into ground that the band has already covered, and not from the effort to win over or inspire waves of new listeners. If there’s an equivalent in indie rock to the political act of firing up the base, this is it.

“Albatross” is an almost stereotypical opening song: it’s all unfulfilled build-up. As Burton finishes his most emphatic vocal line and the drum pauses while waiting for the piano and harmonica to re-enter, the song abruptly cuts out, with nary a swelling chorus to fill in the gap. “Perish Room” retreats deep into slowcore and stark minimalism: you can hear the rather distinct sound of calloused fingertips squeaking against guitar strings, and the percussion, just a kick drum and a tambourine, is soft enough to qualify as a philosophical exercise in the limits of percussion. The instrumental “Bijou” sounds like the more rock-oriented material on Jefferson at Rest, and over the course of three minutes it builds momentum in the tried and true way – by bringing in more and more instruments and having them play faster and faster. But its central melody consists of a single guitar figure played at varying speeds that shuts off as it hits its stride. The Early Day Miners’ fascination with film music is evident on “Bedroom, Houston,” and “Mosaic II,” which, like film scores, are enjoyable in five-to-ten second bursts, gaining volume and tempo when needed to underscore a point and otherwise fading innocuously into the background. Indeed, on “Mosaic II” the music even takes a backseat to the familiar ambient background of crickets chirping, a sound that carries over to the final song, “Misrach,” before being buried by an assortment of backwards guitar lines. It’s a strangely melodic piece, considering that most of it sounds like nothing more than hailstones rushing past your head.

Of course, noting that The Sonograph EP is a collection of experiments doesn’t insulate it from the criticism that it’s boring, and that the Early Day Miners are merely toying with arrangements and styles that serious music fans purportedly became bored with by the mid-’90s. Leaving aside for a second the fact that music fans just out of college were in junior high when Low released its first albums – and thus unlikely to have had their fill of slowcore back in the day – The Sonograph EP at least demonstrates that there’s always more to be done, and that merely grasping the idea behind a particular style of playing fails to exhaust its possibilities. It’s faint praise, perhaps, but even when The Sonograph EP is insubstantial and something less than compelling, it at least demonstrates a thoughtful approach. And so noting that it’s of limited interest is not in any way to suggest that it’s uninteresting.

By Tom Zimpleman

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