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The Earlies - The Enemy Chorus

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Artist: The Earlies

Album: The Enemy Chorus

Label: Secretly Canadian

Review date: Feb. 14, 2007

Despite picking up a rep and critical kudos after releasing their debut on Midwest flagship Secretly Canadian, The Earlies demonstrate once again why they fail where kindred supergroups like Polyphonic Spree succeed. The traits that often gives these psychedelic groups teeth — orchestral density, blindingly bright production, spacey tech-tures — are all there, but the Earlies still manage to stymie any chance at broader appeal.

One of the problems is that the Earlies don’t seem to take advantage of their weaknesses. Singer Brandon Carr has a voice that’s neither memorable nor great, though many have done more with a good deal less. There’s a kind of dead-set seriousness in his delivery that’s at odds with the pageantry The Earlies insist on exhibiting. Then, when the music itself cuddles up to Carr, notably on “The Ground We Walk On” and the first two-thirds of “Bad Is As Bad Does,” the tension is invasive, rather than generative.

But what proves harder to overcome is The Earlies’ lack of a good tune. As a songwriter, Christian Madden seems to have a notion of what constitutes a well-balanced CD - covering a spectrum of shorter and longer songs, atmospheric dirges offset by glistening, upbeat tunes. The album’s first track, "No Love In Your Heart," is an apt introduction to their intentions, beginning with a chamber orchestration that gradually articulates itself into regular 4/4 beats and vocal harmonies that call Queen to mind. “Gone For the Most Part,” the menhir supporting the album’s sagging middle, features space textures laced with arpeggiated piano, but now that noodling in non-Western modes has become somewhat commonplace, The Earlies' attempts come off as overwrought flourishes.

The moments on The Enemy Chorus portioned out for pop melodies, songs like “Burn the Liars” and “Foundation and Earth,” just don’t work. The Earlies have flat and uninteresting choruses, basing them on melody with very little chord progression. Great pop melodies can collide against chord progression in surprising ways, reversing or reiterating what you’ve just liked in a new way you like even better. Above all, great hooks sound so simple you can’t believe they haven’t been written before; The Earlies manage only to emulate the simplicity without the surprise, without the invention.

They’ll get comparisons to The Flaming Lips, inevitably, but The Earlies fall well short of the Lips’ league. The CD is bound to attract some fans for its unwavering dedication to psychedelic textures, not to mention the number of bodies involved in the logistics of their live show, but this is energy that should have been expended in searching for better sheet music.

By Joel Calahan

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