Hex: or Printing In The Infernal Method
I've always admired the bands that would sum up their existence in a solid single short word. Like Cream. or Love. or Creation. There were not The Cream or The Love, they were it and of the thing itself. It shows confidence, unlike say, The Doors. Now if you are something as nebulous as the Velvet Underground, you might need to elaborate with the band name, but if you can't get the point across that you are a Door, like to greater conscienceless or to grand scale pop glutton buffoonery, take your pick, then you might need to reconsider things. Some of these groups missed the mark in my book. Rush? Not fast enough I'm afraid. Yes? No thank you. But when it hit the mark like it did with Fear and KISS, its band name magic.
One of the greatest Noun as Bands you maybe never heard of is Earth, a heavy heavenly object of suitable girth and menace peopled by Guitarist Dylan Carlson and whatever tribesmen he could gather for the meeting (a young Kurt Cobain provided vocals for a primordial track for the band back in his pre-Lennon days.) The first time I heard them was at the apartment of a grad student that went on to be a Published Author who was, on the side, a Sub Pop completist. I think he had every configuration of the grunge movement that was ever slipped onto tape and released into the waters by that once unstoppable label. In his back room at one of his seemingly constant parties, he took a couple of us, knowing we had open ears and minds and dropped the cataclysmic Earth2 on us. It was as if you put the whole grunge movement in a dutch oven, added liberal, no excessive, amounts of bass, and stewed it down into a thick rumbling paste and served it in heaping steaming bowls, thick and hot enough to melt the spoon. We thought this to be either a joke or a novelty record, but much like the cover (which at first appears to be a style-y solid blue block ala vintage Blue Note design, it is actually a low horizon landscape photo with tiny beach-combers dotting the bottom) deeper investigation bore juicy fruit.
I'd forgotten about the band until cult fave black metal experimentalists Sunn O))) (graphically named after the logo on the Sunn amps Earth preferred) emerged on my radar, and in an interview was clued in that head Sunn worshipper Stephen O'Malley started the band as an Earth tribute before forging their own dark path. Turnabout is fair play, so it came to pass that O'Malley's Southern Lord label should be the launch pad for the latest long awaited Earth release.
Sticking close to their namesake in terms of mass and time elapsing between shifts in the plates, Earth has undergone some changes since their last studio album a decade ago. evidently Mr Carlson has spent a lot of time doing some slow jamming on his guitar alone, because that is the resplendent feel of Hex: or Printing in the Infernal Method. I've heard it said elsewhere of its striking comparison to Neil Young's sun bleached Dead Man soundtrack, but what came to mind to me was a much heavier, slower take on the desert music of Giant Sand and Ry Cooder, where the reverb is allowed space to hang in the air and almost congeal.
On the opening track "Mirage" on this all instrumental album, we get to savor desert wind howl mixing with the gravitational pull of Carlson's baritone guitar before "Land of Some Other Order" announces the presence of demons that were stoically approaching. There is enough space in his playing that you get to feel the buzz and crackle of every guitar sound, so much so that this could almost be a demo record for effects pedals. The riffs are a glacial in their pace, but mountainous in shape and impact.
Where this album really diverges fro the original orbit is its inclusion of incidental sound, like the bone rattle of chimes on "The Dire and Ever Circling Wolves" and the pedal steel ghosts and ambiance of "Left in the Desert" but make no mistake, its the guitar that gets the Geiger counter going here. "Lens of Unrectfied Light" is almost the sound of a wrecking ball swinging through the air, hitting nothing on its swing. "The Dry Lake" reminds me of some of Jon Hassell's ambient trumpet records, where the drones therein almost take on an exotic African texture. The final track exquisitely titled "Tethered to the Polestar" slowly ushers us out, in its sparse but enormous cosmic array of blinding lights. Like the whole of the record, it takes time for the songs to sink in, and when they do, they sink all the way in. Might not be the CD you reach for when looking to run up to the store, but in case you are driving across the impossibly flat expanse of Texas, or visiting a meteor crater, this is your album. Majestic, bone-rattling stuff.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com