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The Earlies - These Were The Earlies

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Artist: The Earlies

Album: These Were The Earlies

Label: Secretly Canadian

Review date: Dec. 11, 2005

When These Were the Earlies was originally released on WEA in 2004, it received a warm critical reception and reasonably widespread word-of-mouth praise. It was a difficult record to find, however (and was itself a collection of UK EPs that are even more difficult to find), so it’s recently been reissued on Secretly Canadian, affording everybody a chance to discover one of 2004’s better albums. One of the few Anglo-Texas bands that I know of – half of the line-up is English, the other half Texan – the Earlies make their long-distance collaboration work for them, primarily because they play a mash-up of pysch, pop, and electronica that benefits from a multiplicity of visions.

There are times on These Were the Earlies – and I’m thinking particularly of the gorgeous but glacially paced “Slow Man’s Dreams,” – where one can imagine that, as the tapes and sound files were traded back and forth across the Atlantic, each side wanted to see how many different elements a single song could bear. “Slow Man’s Dreams” begins as a pretty spare piece with electronics and sleigh bells, becomes an orchestral piece about halfway through, and closes with a low drone. “Morning Wonder,” which has a low, pulsating electronic noise in the background at all times, sounds like it could have worked as a similarly minimalist piece, although Brandon Carr’s vocals wildly transformed it. Those vocals, indeed, have a way of transforming nearly any song on which they appear; they fall approximately halfway between Wayne Coyne’s drawl and Jonathan Donahue’s alto, giving the Earlies a superficial similarity with the lush pop of both the Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev. The Earlies’ influences seem to stretch much further than those two bands, though. These Were the Earlies takes the pop sensibility of those bands, and adds a fondness for found sounds, drum machine beats, orchestral effects, and guitar loops. “One of Us is Dead” comes closest to a complete distillation of this formula – the production is almost entirely electronic, although Carr’s multi-tracked vocals and existential meditations keep the song from being so much background material.

Given that it’s a collection of EPs and singles, These Were the Earlies is predictably all over the map, a problem exacerbated by the Earlies’ wide-ranging stylistic ambitions and long-distance collaborative methods. The strength of the album (and, I suspect, the reason it was so well-received last year) is that it showcases a band developing a pretty good idea – their Caribou-meets-The Soft Bulletin brand of psych pop – and seeing where it leads, coherence be damned. Consequently, I don’t have a clue what a full Earlies album will sound like, although I am curious to find out.

By Tom Zimpleman

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