Thursday, March 6, 2008

Earth, EARTH 2

Sub Pop, 1993; available

3 tracks, 73:03

Stranger things have happened, but the sudden popularity of drone doom is still pretty odd. Seeing such bands as SunnO))) and Om being revered is nothing short of amazing, especially since the once-cult level genre is now leaking over to the hipsters. With that in mind, the recent resurgence of Earth isn't much of a surprise. SunnO))) essentially took the Earth formula of heavy drone minimalism, made it heavier, and based a career around it (and more power to them, I'm a fan!). Now that the roster of SunnO)))-owned Southern Lord records includes the revered Earth, drone doom can only get bigger. This massive disc is pretty much where it started. Earth's debut EXTRA-CAPSULAR EXTRACTION hinted at the potential for heavy minimalism, but it sounded closer to heavy grunge/Sabbath worship than pure drone. On EARTH 2, main man Dylan Carlson applied the teachings of minimalists such as Terry Riley and La Monte Young to the electric guitar and bass, creating a new genre of ambient doom metal. EARTH 2 begins with "Seven Angels", the shortest track at a comparitively miniscule fifteen minutes. "Seven Angels" actually features a discernible riff, backed by amplifier feedback and extreme distortion. Dave Harwell's bass is essentially just there to provide as heavy a backing as possible, with Carlson evoking Iommi playing at a fifth of the speed. It makes for a ever-so-slightly accessible plunge into the album. This track segues into the crushing middle track, the twenty-seven minute "Teeth Of Lions Rule The Divine". Sounding like the apocalypse, but strangely relaxing at the same time, "Teeth..." is drone upon drone, approximating the sound of a black hole. While not as heavy as SunnO))) (who named a side project after this song), it clearly was the most extreme experimentation going on in early 90s America, and its pure power and dedication to the amp is still intoxicating. Last up is the thirty-minute dirge-fest of "Like Gold And Faceted". Carlson's love of the minimalists is in full force here, for upon first listen this sounds like the same note of feedback (layered feedback at that!) held for half an hour, with the occasional percussion added by Joe Burns. A closer listen reveals there ARE changes, on a microtonal level. The end result is an impeccable combination of minimalism's micro-changes and the sheer power of a Sunn amp and a guitar. Granted, compared to the subsonic terror of today's drone doom legion, EARTH 2 sounds quaint. As a bold experiment in sound, though, it has few peers. Earth's following album PHASE 3: THRONES AND DOMINIONS has a slightly treblier tone, and it's a nice companion piece. PENTASTAR: IN THE STYLE OF DEMONS is a bland attempt at fitting the grunge mold, but it still has several good moments. The other Earth albums veer from long live jams to country-influenced post-rock heavy minimalism; all of this is well worth investigating. However, should you choose to only own the essential Earth, this is it.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Various artists, HOLLERIN'

Rounder, 1983; available

24 tracks, 59:21

For years I've known of this album. I had MANY misconceptions about it. For one, I was under the impression it is just a live recording of the National Hollerin' Contest (it actually seems to be field recordings a la Alan Lomax). I also assumed it was going to be an awful recording only good for a laugh. In my defense, one of the tracks IS credited to "Dan McLamb & His Three-Legged Dog Percy". The truth is that this is an extraordinarily interesting and poignant document of an unknown American folk tradition. Hollerin' (that's the actual spelling) has its origins in the pre-mass communication days and was centered in Spivey's Corner, NC. Most people today feel they can't live without a cell phone; the farmers who created hollerin' didn't even have home phones or walkie-talkies. The style orginated as a way of communication and bonding, since hollerin' can be very loud and heard for miles. It can be divided into four basic subcategories: Distress hollers, used to announce death, accidents, emergencies, etc.; functional hollers, such as animal calls; communicative hollers, the hollerin' equivalent of "hiya, neighbor!"; and expressive hollers, which can be original or traditional songs in holler style and other purely fun hollers. Most of the tracks, especially those by Leonard Emanuel and O.B. and Dewey Jackson, share a lot in common with other unusual vocal styles such as throat singing and sacred harp. If you can picture throat singing done with high pitches rather than low pitches, you have a solid idea of what this is like. The functional hollers are as unique as each artist; no two truly sound alike. Along with animal calls, there is an example of a holler used to "mock a fox". The original expressive hollers obviously had care put into their creation, including Leonard Emanuel's touching-but-snarky "I Wish I Was Single Again". The traditional expressive hollers include "Shortnin' Bread", "What A Friend We Have In Jesus", and even versions of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" and "Happy Birthday To You"! Both Emanuel and H. H. Oliver present distress hollers; it's easy to see why these would draw attention. The communicative hollers have some of the most lilting passages, and the spirit of camaraderie literally pours out of the performers. For being recorded in 1975 and 1976, the sound quality is impeccable, lacking the defects which sometimes tarnish older field recordings. There are ten different performers, each with a hollerin' style all their own. Names like O.B. Jackson and Dewey Jackson (yes, they are related) are probably unknown even to serious folk scholars, but they shouldn't be. While many listeners seriously just won't be able to get into this, students of folk music and even outsider music fans need this album. It truly is one of the most amazing documents of American folk I have ever heard and it deserves to be more widely known.