2019 seems to be a year where rock rears it’s head again and gains some ascendancy in a busy musical landscape.
The masters of sensuous guitar led music are back, and, with their latest album “Full Upon Her Burning Lips”, Earth forego the additional instrumentation that embellished some of their previous records and reduce the team to the core duo of Dylan Carlson on guitar and bass and Adrienne Davies on drums and percussion.
Matters commence with “Datura’s Crimson Veils”, a twelve-minute opus that reflects Earth’s new approach with Carlson’s sepia-toned Bakersfield Sound guitars lurching across a barren landscape while Davies punctuates the melodies with intent and a particularly effective cymbal roll adds an alien sound to the mix. Indeed her cymbal work throughout the album is exemplary.
The approach on this release in some part looks back to the riff-constructed approach of their “Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light” albums, but stripped of their ornateness….
“It was definitely a very organically developed record,” Carlson says of the process. “I limited the number of effects I used. I always like the limiting of materials to force oneself to employ them more creatively. Previous Earth records were quite lush sounding, and I wanted a more upfront and drier sound, using very few studio effects.”
The stripped down approach had another advantage. “I really wanted the drums to be present,” Carlson says. “I felt with previous Earth records that other instrumentation took up so much of the sonic space that the drums were kind of pushed to the side.”
This methodology highlights Davies’ ability to elevate the drum kit beyond its rhythmic functions and allows it to serve as an expressive, nuanced, and tonally rich component to Earth’s sound without reverting to bombast.
Less is more.
“In the past I’ve usually had a strong framework for an album,” Carlson says. “This one developed over the course of writing and recording. It just felt like ‘Earth’—like just the two players doing their best work at playing, serving the music.”
The absence of a pre-existing narrative guiding the compositions results in songs were more open and intuitive, often resulting in musical vignettes like “Exaltation of Larks” or “Maidens Catafalque”.
“I wanted this to be a ‘sexy’ record, a record acknowledging the ‘witchy’ and ‘sensual’ aspects in the music… sort of a ‘witch’s garden’ kind of theme, with references to mind altering plants and animals that people have always held superstitious beliefs towards. A conjuror or root doctor’s herbarium of songs, as it were.”
The ten tracks on Full Upon Her Burning Lips came together in bits and pieces. Songs like “Cats on the Briar” and “Mandrake’s Hymn” emerged from a handful of musical phrases and repeating patterns concocted in moments of downtime during their 2017 tour schedule. The delightful “Descending Belladonna” came from a live soundtrack project. Other songs came from rehearsals in the months leading up to recording or in moments of inspiration in the studio.
The record was engineered, mixed, and mastered by longtime associate Mell Dettmer at Studio Soli. Knowing their process and their sound, Dettmer helped harness, shape, and document the songs in a manner that highlights the depth of Earth’s sparse components. For the patient listener, the cyclical nature of the songs “She Rides an Air of Malevolence” or “An Unnatural Carousel” reveal new elements with repeated listens, with the subtle variations between passes creating a kaleidoscope of sounds.
“I feel like this is the fullest expression and purest distillation of what Earth does since I re-started the band,” Carlson says in reflection of Full Upon Her Burning Lips.
As a long time Earth fan I found the new approach refreshing, there is a tendency in some rock circles to “over-egg the mix” in the search of something memorable, whereas this band manage to achieve that goal by simplifying their approach. Both restrained and adventurous in equal measure, this is instrumental music of the highest quality and a primer for how to use the guitar without fret worrying shredding, and the drums as more than mere percussion. I have to agree with Carlson, this is their best work to date and it immediately goes on the albums of the year list for 2019.
Sargent House releases the album to the world on May 24th, 2019 on 2xLP / CD / digital formats.