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Early Day Miners - Offshore

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Artist: Early Day Miners

Album: Offshore

Label: Secretly Canadian

Review date: Oct. 22, 2006

Their record label calls Offshore the “director’s cut” of a song that has been a staple of Early Day Miners’ live set for a few years now. The description seems about right: past Early Day Miners albums have always sounded a little bit like soundtrack work, building long stretches of quiet background music into huge, dramatic arcs. That kind of sweeping construction, of course, is a common trick and bands like Mogwai have made a career out of finding dozens of variations on that same theme. What makes Early Day Miners different is that their work doesn’t build into total cacophony or tail off into extended improv; instead, they put a premium on tunefulness, allowing, say, a country-ish lead guitar figure to build into a stirring shoegazer melody. There’s always a recognizable song, such that you can easily imagine a film director thinking that this song is just the thing to accompany that big, important scene.

At any rate, this is actually the second time that the band has released “Offshore.” The song was originally written for 2002’s Let Us Garlands Bring, a slow eight-minute song with lyrics describing a desolate and isolated location. The album-length Offshore is a six-song cycle, reflecting changes that Early Day Miners mastermind Daniel Burton has made to the song in the intervening four years and fleshed out with the help of guest vocalists (Amber Webber from Black Mountain), guest musicians (Dan Matz from Windsor for the Derby, Johnathon Ford from Unwed Sailor, and bass player Darin Gray), and a special guest producer (Chicago’s venerable John McEntire). In some respects this version does indeed play out like a song-cycle: the first and last songs, “Land of Pale Saints” and “Hymn Beneath the Palisades,” have a similar stomping, electric guitar-driven quality that gives the album the appearance of having come full circle. In other respects, however, Offshore seems like a completely new album of material: “Sans Revival” is a short, pensive song built around Burton’s vocals, and stands out as an obvious single; “Silent Tents” is nicely languid, the slide guitar and gently brushed drums creating an atmosphere world’s apart from that of the original “Offshore.”

Which is to say, this project may originally have appealed primarily to fans of the band who were familiar with their earlier albums and who may have even heard the expanded version of “Offshore” in concert, but there’s no need to cabin its appeal in that way. The shorter songs, like “Deserter,” Burton’s duet with Webber, and “Sans Revival” are a decided change of pace from the post-rock in the band’s back catalog, and could easily win them a whole new audience. (The fact that Burton’s vocals sound more like Peter Gabriel than ever before may help in that respect as well.) The instrumental tracks also benefit from the band’s expanded line-up and McEntire’s glossy production work. Offshore doesn’t just revisit old material; it’s an assured album in its own right.

By Tom Zimpleman

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