Earth is an American musical group based in Seattle, Washington, formed in 1989 and led by guitarist Dylan Carlson. Earth’s music is mostly instrumental, and can be divided into two distinct stages. Their early work grew out of the Seattle-area grunge scene and is recognized as pioneering the genre of drone doom — an experimental offshoot of doom metal, characterized by droning, minimalist, lengthy, and repetitive structures.
Earth’s early albums were usually recorded as a duo (Carlson and a bass guitarist), and could be seen as a variation of the experimental doom-influenced metal of The Melvins. Earth currently features a markedly different sound, slow-paced and lengthy, but now with a drummer and featuring strong elements of country music and jazz.
With their latest album “Full Upon Her Burning Lips”, Earth purges the layers of auxiliary instrumentation that embellished some of their previous records and deconstructed their dynamic to the core duo of Dylan Carlson on guitar and bass and Adrienne Davies on drums and percussion. In the process, they tapped into the Platonic ideal of Earth—an incarnation of the long running band bolstered by the authority of purpose, where every note and every strike on the drum kit carries the weight of the world.
Full Upon Her Burning Lips opens with “Datura’s Crimson Veils”, a twelve-minute opus that adheres to Earth’s 21st century approach with Carlson’s sepia-toned Bakersfield Sound guitars lurching across a barren landscape while Davies punctuates the melodies with death knell drums. It’s a sound that harkens back to the riff-constructed vistas 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.” In less capable hands, these kinds of limitations might diminish the aural scope of the compositions, but Carlson and Davies have always thrived on reductive methods.
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 tactic helps highlight Davies’ ability to elevate the drum kit beyond its mere metronomic functions and allows it to serve as an expressive, nuanced, and tonally rich component to Earth’s arsenal of sound.
In addition to scaling back on their ranks, Earth altered their previous trajectory by entering into Full Upon Her Burning Lips without a conceptual arc to guide the process, relying instead on their collective subconscious to hone in on the overarching muse as the songs developed. “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 meant that the songs were more open and intuitive, often resulting in more terse musical vignettes like the richly harmonic “Exaltation of Larks” or the dreamily itinerant “Maidens Catafalque”. Yet subconscious impulses gradually created their own subtext for the album. “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.”
Alison Chesley aka Helen Money is a cellist who has become known for her adventurous sound, bold compositions, and compelling stage performance. Called “A classical-cellist-turned-avant-metal virtuoso” by the Boston Phoenix, Chesley channels her sensibilities and experience as a rock musician through a classical instrument, altering both genres without apology. She has played on over 150 albums with artists such as Disturbed, Bob Mould, Mono, Anthrax, Broken Social Scene, Russian Circles, and Archer Prewitt among others.
She began composing music for films, theater and dance including two world premiers with the modernist icon Shirley Mordine. And, in 2007, Alison wrote the first Helen Money album and released it on her own label, Cellobird Records. Since then, she’s recorded three additional albums as Helen Money, the latest of which, Become Zero, is available on Thrill Jockey Records. Helen Money has toured the world several times over opening for bands such as Sleep, Shellac, Earth, Mono, Neurosis, Magma and Jarboe including a 2015 appearance on The David Letterman Show with Bob Mould and an appearance at the 2012 ATP Festival in London curated by Portishead.
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